Marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado has incited debate throughout the country. Can a distributor be arrested and charged under federal law? How does the legal sale of marijuana implicate national banks and business owners? What are the social ramifications of legalization? While everyone seems to take a position on this issue, whether for medical or personal use, advocates in Alabama are pursuing legalization on behalf of defendants and inmates who are serving life-sentences for non-violent drug crimes.
According to recent reports, a petition in Alabama is circulating to promote decriminalization of marijuana and to ban habitual offender laws for nonviolent criminals. Alabama has one of the highest rates of incarceration for non-violent offenders and many of these inmates are serving life-sentences. Loved ones and advocates for these inmates are pursuing the legalization of marijuana to help free them of their harsh sentences. Our Birmingham criminal defense attorneys are dedicated to protecting the rights of our clients and exploring every defense option. We are also abreast of local and national legal issues that impact individuals arrested and charged with drug crimes.
The petition in Alabama seeks to completely decriminalize possession for any amount. In Washington State and Colorado, there are still limits of one ounce for personal use. The woman who started the petition is seeking to free her brother who was found guilty of trafficking marijuana. Due to habitual offender laws and strict sentencing policies in the state of Alabama, the judge sentenced him to life in prison. The defendant had a prior record including convictions for possession of marijuana, possession of cocaine and distribution. All of the offenders were non-violent crimes, but in accordance with habitual offender laws, the judge had no choice but to send the 33-year-old to prison—for life.
While the petition has not garnered a huge amount of support and will likely not be received well by Alabama legislatures, it does demonstrate a kind of urgency in addressing Alabama’s harsh sentences and high rates of imprisonment for non-violent offenders. Many legislators will oppose legalization for medicinal purposes, and it is extremely unlikely that even a fraction will support complete decriminalization of marijuana.
According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Alabama has one of the most restrictive marijuana laws in the country. Colorado and Washington are not the only states to have passed legalization laws. There are 15 states that have made possession of small amounts of marijuana, making possession only small infraction that amounts to a traffic ticket; 20 states have legalized marijuana for medical use.
Nationwide, about 75% of Americans support decriminalization and medical usage while 60% do support outright legalization. Recent polls indicate that relaxing drug laws are actually more popular than legislators are taking into consideration. Should legislators reconsider drug laws? Are the penalties too harsh for possession and other drug crimes? Should Alabama change its habitual offender laws? While this petition may not make headway in the capitol, it is providing a talking point for legislators and Alabama residents to consider.