Prosecutors, who represent just over half of Alabamians, jumped into the legislative debate this week, calling marijuana a gateway drug and trying to prevent Alabama from joining most of the nation to allow medical marijuana.
23 of the state’s top 42 prosecutors, including two from major boroughs around Huntsville and Mobile, signed a letter to opposition lawmakers in Alabama.
They called on state lawmakers to kill a bill that would make Alabama the 37th state to allow the use of medicinal cannabis products, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The legislation is sponsored by Senator Tim Melson, a Republican and medical doctor from Florence.
But many did not sign, including prosecutors in counties Jefferson and Montgomery and much of the Black Belt.
These are the districts where elected prosecutors signed the letter:
[Can’t see the map? Click here.]
The opposing prosecutors represent 33 of Alabama’s 67 counties and approximately 53 percent of the state’s population. The letter argued that marijuana was dangerous and that there were dishonest efforts to convince the public of it.
“Marijuana is a wolf in sheep’s clothing … too many in public believe it’s harmless,” the letter said. “That is perhaps the biggest lie that has been perpetrated in the Alabama public today. Please do not promote the lie by voting for any form of legalization beyond the pharmaceutical resources already available under state law. “
The bill, which does not allow any form of raw marijuana plant or anything that could be smoked or vaporized, is expected to be passed soon at Alabama House. The Senate cleared the bill earlier this month.
There are two prosecutors in Jefferson County – the state’s most populous county and the home of Birmingham. Neither signed the letter, but both recently worked to prevent arrests for marijuana use.
Jefferson County District Attorney, Bessemer Cutoff, Lynneice Washington announced earlier this month that she and other district officials would be working together on a policy that would end the arrest of some non-violent crimes, including simple marijuana possession, citing overcrowded prisons in the county.
Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr, who is working with Washington on this new policy, wrote a letter earlier this month urging the Birmingham Police Department to follow the policy to prevent arrests for minor marijuana crimes.
“I firmly believe that our limited resources should be directed towards more serious crime,” wrote Carr. “I am not advocating the use of marijuana. Merely recognizing the ability to cite and share cases of marijuana for personal use would benefit law enforcement, courts and the community.”
Carr’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the medical marijuana bill or the letter from 23 other prosecutors.
Last week, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin pardoned 15,000 city court convictions for marijuana possession over the past two decades.
However, Woodfin said that marijuana possession in Birmingham was still illegal and he had no authority to change state law. Woodfin published a petition calling on heads of state to decriminalize marijuana possession. “Simply put, these prohibitions do not make our city safer and only create barriers for many in our community to earn a good and honest living,” wrote Woodfin. “One small mistake shouldn’t define a lifetime.”
AL.com reporter Mike Cason contributed to this story.
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