Oklahoma has a reputation, apparently earned, for having some of the toughest laws in the United States when it comes to not only trafficking of illegal drugs, but even possession of them. Even drugs like marijuana, which some states have begun to legalize for personal use, can still trigger prison terms and fines. Possession of any amount can result in a sentence of incarceration for up to a year; a subsequent possession conviction is a felony with a prison sentence of two to ten years.

What is more, it does not matter whether your violation of Oklahoma drug laws was inadvertent or even intended for what might otherwise be considered a salutary purpose.

For example, consider the ongoing case of a former U.S. Marine, who was living near Fort Sill with his family when he was arrested for marijuana cultivation. After serving three tours of duty overseas, including at least one in Iraq, he had incurred physical injuries to his back and shoulder, and was also diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and bipolar disorder. Eventually the Marines discharged him for medical reasons, but his symptoms persisted.

The trouble began when doctors prescribed a cocktail of up to a dozen different drugs to treat those symptoms. Fearing the potential side effects of so many medications, he began to experiment with alternative treatments, one of which was to self-medicate with marijuana, at first when he and his family were living in California and later when they moved to Oklahoma, where in the absence of any external source of the drug he began to grow six plants in his backyard.

This solution was not completely effective, however, and during one PTSD-related episode police were called to the couple’s home, where they discovered the plants and arrested him. He is now facing those severe Oklahoma marijuana laws, which could at least theoretically result in a sentence of at least two years (for possession) and up to life in prison for cultivation, although it is unlikely that as a first-time offender anyone convicted of marijuana possession or even cultivation would receive the maximum sentence. Some have speculated that cultivation-related sentences are loosely based on a “two years per plant” basis, but a lesser sentence of conditional release and probation or diversion sentencing is also a possibility.

The accused claimed to be unaware that Oklahoma has no medical marijuana law, and his spouse has expressed dismay that the penalties for possession and cultivation for ostensible personal use can be so seemingly harsh. But as you may already know by the colloquial expression, as far as enforcement of the law is concerned “ignorance is not a defense”.

The takeaways from this unfortunate story are that you should be aware that if you live in Oklahoma you are subject to some of the nation’s harshest drug laws, and that ignorance and good intentions will likely avail you little as defense strategies if you are charged with possession of any kind, including for therapeutic purposes.