Sean Worsley served his country in war-ravaged Iraq by clearing roadside explosives. He returned home with a purple medal bearing George Washington’s face, and a lifetime of pain stemming from the post-traumatic stress disorder, and the traumatic brain injury he acquired while overseas. Now Sean feels that he’s “being thrown away by a country he went and served for.”
The Cost Of Listening To Loud Music While Black In Alabama
In August of 2016, Sean and his wife Eboni were taking a road trip to visit both of their parents. They had stopped first in Mississippi where Eboni’s family resided and were on the way to North Carolina to surprise Sean’s grandmother. Her home had been destroyed in a recent hurricane, and Sean was hoping to help her rebuild. The couple pulled over at a gas station in Gordo, Alabama to refill their tank, when the Worsley’s worst nightmare became a reality.
Officer Carl Abramo confronted Sean and Eboni, telling them that the music coming from their car was too loud, and it violated the town’s noise ordinances. During this time, Officer Abramo stated that he smelled marijuana, and asked the Worsleys about the odor.
Sean, a medical marijuana patient, thought he had nothing to hide. He explained to Officer Abramo that he was a veteran of the Iraq war, and used medical marijuana to treat the injuries he sustained during his time in the service. Sean’s words fell on deaf ears, as Abramo arrested both Sean and Eboni. According to a study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, African Americans in Alabama were four times more likely to be charged with marijuana possession than whites in 2016—the year that the Worsleys were arrested.
It took six days in an Alabama jail until Sean and Eboni were able to be released on bond. When they returned home to Arizona, they were unable to maintain their housing due to the charges, forcing the couple to relocate to Nevada. A year later, an Alabama judge revoked all bonds on the cases he managed, prompting the Worsleys to return to the Heart of Dixie. There, despite the fact that the VA had determined Sean was totally disabled and in need of a caregiver/legal guardian, the two were locked in separate rooms. Sean was threatened with the incarceration of Eboni if he did not sign a plea deal. He was backed into a corner with no other way out. He felt he had no choice but to capitulate and sign the agreement.
The plea agreement resulted in thousands of dollars worth of fines, mandatory drug treatment, and 60 months of probation—probation which transferred to Arizona because that is where Sean lived during the time of the initial arrest.
What followed was a series of bureaucratic quagmires that resulted in the Worsleys falling in and out of homelessness, and rendered Sean incapable of complying with the terms of his probation.
Earlier this year, Sean was pulled over by Arizona police. He was in possession of marijuana, and he had been unable to afford the costs of renewing his medical marijuana card. Arizona police extradited Sean back to Alabama at the cost of $4,345, which the state passed onto Sean in addition to the $3,833.40 he already owed in fines and court costs. On April 28th, an Alabama court sentenced Sean to five years in prison.
How To Help
The Alabama prison system is notoriously violent, with the highest homicide rate in the country. Sean is leaving behind two young children. The Worsleys desperately need money to pay for the attorney fees, fines, and court costs that are required to fight for Sean’s freedom. As of now, the Gofundme set up by Eboni has raised more than $90,000, but every cent helps combat this injustice. You can also sign the Change.org petition.
Thanks to the progressive steps taken by over half of the states in the US, cannabis is legal for medicinal or recreational use. However, a few states lag behind and individuals caught with cannabis face fines and prison sentences that highlight the divide between what’s legal and what’s not. Whether you live in one of the states with harsh cannabis laws or plan on visiting, think twice; you don’t want to get caught with cannabis in these 4 states.
With its neighbor states having all adopted some form of cannabis friendly policies, the cheese stands alone. In Wisconsin, there are no laws protecting individuals who use cannabis for medicinal purposes and certainly not for recreational use. If caught with cannabis, unless it’s a first offense (which is a misdemeanor and $1,000 fine), be aware that you’ll be charged with a felony, not to mention a hefty fine of anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000. While a bill to legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use is on its third draft by Representative Melissa Sargent, it’s hard to say whether or not the third time will be a charm.
Paying the harsh price in Wisconsin is Rodney Hudson. An unfortunate victim of the racial disparity that impacts African-Americans (they are 4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana crimes than others), Rodney is a convicted felon because he has more than one charge for possession of cannabis. He may be fortunate that he’s not behind bars, but bearing a record with a felony cuts deeply into his quality of life. There is no financial aid available to convicted felons who want to further their educations, their drivers licenses are suspended for six months (a significant hindrance in finding work), and they will have a harder time finding employment. What’s worse is that while more states are legalizing cannabis use, arrests for cannabis related crimes in Wisconsin continue to rise.
No ifs, ands, or buts about it…don’t get caught with cannabis in Tennessee. While the first couple of minor offenses warrant a misdemeanor charge, minimal fines of up to $500 and the possibility of one year behind bars, punishments increase depending on the charge. For amounts above one half ounce, felony charges apply with an exorbitant fine of up to $500,000 and depending on the charge, up to 60 years in prison.
Nashville and Memphis decriminalized cannabis over a year ago, giving police the ability to hand out citations as they saw fit. Unfortunately, the Tennessee House of Representatives recently passed a bill to nullify the laws that decriminalized it. This seems a regressive move, considering that both Nashville and Memphis are tourist hot spots.
Another state that’s unfriendly towards cannabis is Oklahoma. Individuals with more than a couple of minor offenses will face felony charges, exorbitant fines up to $500,000 and a possible life sentence in prison. While the governor there recently modified laws to allow CBD oil, no changes were made to allow the medicinal or recreational use of cannabis.
Having faced the unpleasant tune of life without parole, William Dufries was charged with transporting over sixty pounds of marijuana in Oklahoma in 2003. For a non-violent offense, the life without parole price tag is a hefty price to pay when violent offenders face less time behind bars. Dufries is not the only one; however, after his appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case, he has some hope for freedom. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has commuted his sentence, among a few others, to life in prison, providing the possibility of parole. Still, it will be a long and hard fight for Dufries and others charged with non-violent drug crimes who sit in prison and wait.
Unlike the song, Alabama isn’t so sweet when home is life behind bars because of cannabis related drug charges. Fines top out at $200,000 and for habitual offenders, even non-violent offenders, life in prison is a stark possibility.
Consider the cases of Richard Bolden and Carroll Brooker. Both non-violent offenders are serving life sentences in prison because they were busted with marijuana. Bolden, a father in his 40’s, and Brooker, in his 70’s, sit and wait. Neither feels their sentence is fair, especially considering how cannabis laws are changing all over the country. While they sit in prison until they die, others around the nation are free to use, transport, and sell cannabis without fear of such life-altering consequences.
For those living in states with relaxed cannabis laws, it’s hard to imaging paying such a heavy price as those who live in these 4 states do. While the wind of change is blowing, it’s hard to say how soon its message will reach the ears of those who pull the strings. With any luck, the progress that rest of the nation is making in regards to marijuana laws will rub off on them.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson of Mobile, Alabama is pushing for what is bering referred to as marijuana decriminalization. Simpson is sponsoring a City Ordinance that would reduce the current penalties for marijuana possession to a citation and a fine. In addition to reducing the penalties for other minor crimes, the ordinance is meant to ease the burden on law enforcement so that resources can be devoted to more serious crimes.
“With these minor offenses, people often don’t spend very much time, or any time, in jail. But they do go through a process that takes our officers off the street,”
said Ricardo Woods, attorney for the City of Mobile.
“What we’re doing is cutting to the end of that process.”
Specifically, the decriminalization refers to “Possession of Marijuana Second Degree,” which pertains to possession for personal use. “Most of these seem like victimless crimes,” said one Mobile resident who reviewed the list of crimes that are up for decriminalization. They include minor crimes like Criminal Trespassing, Disorderly Conduct, Failure to Obey City Code, Harassment, Loitering for drug purposes, Minor in possession, Public Intoxication, Public Lewdness, Possession of Marijuana 2nd degree, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, and Unauthorized Use of Motor Vehicle. The specific citation for these crimes would be a Uniform Non-Traffic Citation and Complaint.
Reducing the penalties for these crimes would also eliminate jail time, but city officials are defensive about referring to the ordinance as the decriminalization of marijuana. “To say that it is decriminalization is wholly inaccurate.” said Woods. And yet a suggested $100 fine and no jail time can be interpreted as such. It is not clear how these offenses would be documented on criminal records.
The debate over the proposed ordinance is expected to be tedious. Some officials are expected to question certain offenses on the list and whether they should receive reduced penalties at all.
Proposals such as these are being made in cities across the country, with similar reasons being cited for reform, including the burden on law enforcement and the effect of a criminal record for nonviolent crimes. While the ordinance will probably not pass, the City of Mobile is at least discussing the potential for marijuana decriminalization.
Former deputies Zak Green and Steven Moody of Winston County, Alabama are filing a wrongful termination suit against Sheriff Hobby Walker, claiming they were fired for not providing Walker with marijuana seized during search warrants.
“Sheriff Walker advised that it was not for himself but for his aunt that was dying of cancer and needed the marijuana to help her with her appetite.”
stated Green and Moody in their lawsuit, filed January 13th, 2016. The deputies made a final delivery to the sheriff on September 23rd, 2015 and were dismissed on November 30th, 2015. They believe it was due to their involvement with the sheriff’s demands.
The first request was allegedly made on May 20th, 2015 with several subsequent requests. They claim that the sheriff himself tried obtaining marijuana on his own through other law enforcement-related seizures but was unsuccessful. Eventually, the two deputies contacted both state and federal agencies seeking assistance, including the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Attorney General’s office, and the FBI.
Attorney Jay Stover is representing the former deputies, stating,
“They were directed to break the law. Now they have to sue to protect themselves.”
No charges have been filed at this time, but Stover reports, “In Alabama, it’s called distribution, on top of tampering with evidence.”
The search for relief using cannabis has caused many patients and caregivers to resort to extreme measures. Medical marijuana “refugees” seek out states with medical and/or recreational laws when their own state still favors prohibition.
Legislation to legalize the possession and use of non-psychoactive medical cannabis (cannabidiol or CBD) oil, for patients who receive a physician’s recommendation, has been filed in Alabama.
“The people I’ve talked to about it seem very receptive to it,”
said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Ball (R-Madison). “It’s nothing like it was a couple of years ago when I started on Carly’s Law. This is a whole different dynamic.”
The law to which Ball was referring, Carly’s Law, was passed by the state legislature in 2014. It declared that the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) was to be the sole researcher and distributor of CBD oil, a single-cannabinoid medicine, within the state.
Limited and restrictive CBD-only laws like the ones enacted in Alabama, Georgia and Iowa are often criticized by experts because while CBD alone does help some patients, many conditions require multiple cannabinoids working synergistically in a process called the entourage effect or whole plant therapy to truly benefit from the medicinal use of cannabis.
The enactment of Carley’s law in 2014 led Alabama mother Amy Young to attempt to enlist her daughter, Leni, in the study at UAB. Leni, 4, suffers from brain damage due to a stroke that occurred before she was born. Though Young believed that CBD oil would be greatly beneficial to her daughter, Leni was not eligible to participate in the UAB study. As a result, Young packed up the family and moved to Oregon, where cannabis in all forms, from concentrates like low-THC, high-CBD oil to full potency solventless concentrates and dried flowers, are readily available in a legal market. Leni’s condition has improved greatly since incorporating the use of medical cannabis oil.
Alabama mom, Kari Forsyth, with her daughter Chesney, speaking on behalf of legalizing cannabis oil. (photo credit: Paul Gattis)
After hearing testimonials from other Alabama parents and witnessing firsthand the improvements experienced by Leni, Rep. Ball decided to take action by spearheading the push of a new law — which he has already dubbed “Leni’s Law” — to make CBD oil medically available in Alabama.
“I think it’s time to take this step and I’m going to do everything I can to get it done,”
“I think a lot of folks are going to come out of the woodwork to help me.”
Along with Sen. Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville), Rep. Ball also plans to start discussing the benefits of a federal reclassification or declassification of cannabis with Alabama legislators and residents.
Cannabis is currently a Schedule I substance in the United States, meaning it is listed among heroin and LSD as the “most dangerous.” Schedule I substances, defined as having no recognized medicinal value, have strict barriers in place which make them nearly unobtainable for reachers to run trials and study. Reclassifying or declassifying cannabis would open doors for researchers to finally determine the full extent of the cannabis’s medicinal value.