State of Cannabis: Not-So-Sweet Home Alabama
This is number four in our series ranking the fifty states on cannabis from worst to best. This is our fourth in the series. Idaho was last week, ranking as the third worst state for cannabis. This week we head to the heart of Dixie, where good marijuana laws are severely lacking, but especially in Alabama.
Criminal Law. Marijuana possession in Alabama is a misdemeanor with an overly harsh penalty. Alabama makes possession for personal use (any amount less than one kilogram — 2.2 pounds) a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $6,000. Think about that for just a minute. In places like Washington, Oregon and Colorado, you can possess cannabis legally but in Alabama, even trace amounts could get you a year in jail. And it gets worse as possession of over one kilogram of marijuana or a second offense (of any amount), is a Class C felony that warrants a one to five year prison sentence and a fine of up to $15,000.
“Drug trafficking” means cultivating, selling, or distributing marijuana and those things are punished harshly in Alabama under its mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking, with the sentences depending on the quantity found, as follows:
- 2.2 to 100 pounds earns a mandatory minimum sentence of 3 years and a $25,000 fine.
- 100 to 500 pounds earns a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years and a $50,000 fine.
- 500 to 1,000 pounds earns a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years and a $200,000 fine.
- 1,000 pounds or more earns a mandatory life sentence without parole.
Alabama obviously takes a tough stance on marijuana, remaining one of the few states with a mandatory life sentence for a cannabis offense.
To make matters worse for Alabama, its laws disproportionately impact communities of color. A 2014 New York Times article noted that Black Alabamans are 4.4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than Whites, even though Blacks and Whites generally use marijuana at a comparable rate.
Future of Legal Marijuana. Legalization in Alabama looks bleak. The political website Salon ranked Alabama as the least likely state to legalize marijuana. So far, every state that has legalized marijuana for recreational use has done so through the initiative process. Alabama does not have an initiative system. This means its ultra-conservative state legislature must pass a bill to legalize marijuana. This is the same state legislature that refuses to repeal life sentences for pot. Recreational marijuana is not going to happen in Alabama any time soon.
Alabama did though recently pass a very limited medical marijuana bill, known as “Carly’s Law,” to allow medicinal CBD oil in a study to treat children with severe forms of epilepsy. Only the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Neurology may recommend the oil. The study has excluded many children with epilepsy, which recently led one mom to speak out to the state legislature:
“Parents need to be able to not worry about whether they are going to jail to try to save our children,” said Jodi Mitchell, whose son Robert was forced to leave the UAB study. “There is nothing in this world worse than watching them suffer. We need help. We need y’alls help.There is no reason I should have to consider becoming a criminal to help my child because I live in the wrong ZIP code.”
Despite these pleas, it remains difficult for epileptic children in Alabama to access medicine that could reduce their seizures.
Bottomline. Using marijuana in Alabama puts you at risk of a long jail time and its limited medical marijuana program is failing many of the children it was intended to benefit and helping pretty much nobody else. The entire State of Alabama is “the wrong ZIP code” for cannabis and until it gets its act together, marijuana users should stay away.