Marijuana is perhaps the most widely used of all illegal drugs in the United States. It is so popular, in fact, that more than half of all states have legalized the drug for medical use, recreational use, or both.
Although pot remains illegal under federal law, Alabama and surrounding Southern states are the exceptions to a changing trend. And among all states in this part of the country, Alabama has perhaps the toughest marijuana laws on the books. This is especially problematic when it comes to trafficking charges. An investigation by the Southern Poverty Law Center determined that Alabama’s marijuana trafficking sentences are both “arbitrary” and “excessive.”
Federal Law and Neighboring State Laws
Someone in Alabama can be charged with trafficking if they are caught in possession of just 2.2 pounds of marijuana. This amount could easily be possessed by dealers (which are not the same as traffickers) or even heavy marijuana users.
The threshold seems especially jaw-dropping when you compare it to laws in nearby states and federal law. Georgia sets the minimum at 10 pounds. Florida has a 25-pound minimum. Federal law sets the minimum at 220 pounds. Amazingly, Arkansas’ trafficking minimum for marijuana is 500 pounds!
The Southern Poverty Law Center sums up the disparity very well when saying: “a person who would be charged with trafficking in marijuana in Alabama would likely face a lesser charge and a lesser penalty if caught with the same amount of marijuana in most neighboring states.”
No Scientific or Public Safety Standards
The fact that marijuana laws in this part of the country vary so wildly suggests that the laws are arbitrary. In other words, there is no research to back up evidence that one amount of marijuana is more dangerous than another. In fact, the small amount of scientific research that has been done shows that marijuana is far safer than alcohol or even over-the-counter pain relievers, not to mention opioids and other “street drugs.” There is still some debate about whether a fatal overdose of cannabis is possible, but there is agreement that any such cases would be exceedingly rare.
None of this is meant to argue for marijuana legalization. That needs to be a legislative decision. But it does make a strong argument for reforming Alabama’s criminal laws regarding marijuana. They should be both consistent and reasonable.
Check back for our next post as we continue our discussion.