Alabama’s War on Drugs Affects us All

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I had the misfortune of living in Alabama when they banned kratom back in 2016. That’s because the state of Alabama still believes that the War on Drugs can be won. But a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center says otherwise.

It’s time for Alabama to join an increasing number of states in taking a commonsense, fiscally responsible approach to marijuana policy. ~SPLC

But last week the Southern Poverty Law Center released a report which stated

Alabama’s “war on marijuana is one whose often life-altering consequences fall most heavily on black people – a population still living in the shadow of Jim Crow. Their laws are not only overly harsh, they also place enormous discretion in the hands of law enforcement, creating an uneven system of justice and leaving plenty of room for abuse. This year in Etowah County, for example, law enforcement officials charged a man with drug trafficking after adding the total weight of marijuana-infused butter to the few grams of marijuana he possessed, so they could reach the 2.2-pound threshold for a trafficking charge. Prohibition also has tremendous economic and public safety costs. The state is simply shooting itself in the pocketbook, wasting valuable taxpayer dollars and adding a tremendous burden to the courts and public safety resources.”

The study found that:

-The overwhelming majority of people arrested for marijuana offenses from 2012 to 2016 – 89 percent – were arrested for possession. In 2016, 92 percent of all people arrested for marijuana offenses were arrested for possession.
-Alabama spent an estimated $22 million enforcing the prohibition against marijuana possession in 2016 – enough to fund 191 additional preschool classrooms, 571 more K-12 teachers or 628 more Alabama Department of Corrections officers.
-Black people were approximately four times as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana possession (both misdemeanors and felonies) in 2016 – and five times as likely to be arrested for felony possession. These racial disparities exist despite robust evidence that white and black people use marijuana at roughly the same rate.
-In at least seven law enforcement jurisdictions, black people were 10 or more times as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.
-In 2016, police made more arrests for marijuana possession (2,351) than for robbery, for which they made 1,314 arrests – despite the fact that there were 4,557 reported robberies that year.
-The enforcement of marijuana possession laws creates a crippling backlog at the state agency tasked with analyzing forensic evidence in all criminal cases, including violent crimes. As of March 31, 2018, the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences had about 10,000 pending marijuana cases, creating a nine-month waiting period for analyses of drug samples. At the same time, the department had a backlog of 1,121 biology/DNA cases, including about 550 “crimes against persons” cases such as homicide, sexual assault and robbery.
-While Alabama continues to criminalize people who use marijuana either recreationally or medicinally, an increasing number of states have come to treat marijuana like alcohol and tobacco. Nine states and the District of Columbia now allow recreational use.

THE REPORT WENT ON TO SAY:

“Public support for legalization in the United States has never been higher – 61 percent in recent polling, representing a sea change in attitudes compared with 2005, when over 60 percent were opposed. Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use, and another 13 states – including Mississippi – have reclassified small amounts as noncriminal offenses. These states, and a majority of Americans, realize that the war on marijuana is not only ineffective but a monumental waste of tax dollars and harmful to communities of color.

Despite the national and Southern state trends toward a more commonsense approach – and despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that the substance is far safer than either alcohol or cigarettes – Alabama’s marijuana laws remain both draconian and ill-defined. They result in overly harsh, unequal justice that shatters lives and drives the poor further into poverty.

The draconian nature of the state’s marijuana laws extends from possession to trafficking. Individuals charged with possessing even a small amount for personal use face a felony charge if they have a previous marijuana possession conviction. In 2015, there were 901 felony convictions in Alabama related to the possession of marijuana. It was the sixth most frequent felony offense at conviction. In the five years ending in September 2015, there were 5,014 felony marijuana possession convictions. And, while only a small fraction of these individuals will spend time in prison, they’ll nonetheless be labeled felons for the rest of their lives – a label that brings with it severe collateral consequences that continue to punish individuals even after they’ve completed their sentence.

In addition, because they are so ill-defined, Alabama’s marijuana laws are ripe for abuse by law enforcement. Drug trafficking is the only marijuana-related crime with a defined weight threshold (a minimum of 2.2 pounds). For anything under 2.2 pounds, prosecutors have the discretion to charge a person with possession for personal use, possession for a purpose other than personal use, manufacturing or distribution.

In other words, two people caught with the same amount of marijuana can be charged with different crimes. A prosecutor may choose to charge one person found with a quarter ounce of marijuana with possession for a use other than personal (a felony) and charge another person with possession for personal use only (a misdemeanor, for a first offense). This broad discretion creates wide disparities among district attorneys’ offices, resulting in uneven justice.

Even for the well-defined trafficking offense, there are serious disparities in charging decisions.”

READ THE FULL REPORT HERE

I’m sure by now you’re asking yourself, “what does any of this have to do with me? Or with kratom?”

The war on drugs, any drug, harms us all. Prohibition is a failure and we as a society are paying too high a price. To understand more, read HIGH PRICE by Dr. Carl Hart.

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Alabama’s War on Drugs Affects us All
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