Birmingham, Alabama Mayor Randall Woodfin announced on Tuesday that blanket pardons would be issued for cannabis convictions going back more than 30 years, giving up to 15,000 people even more reason to celebrate on 4/20. And in another move by state leaders to mark the high holiday, the Alabama Democratic Party called on lawmakers to legalize cannabis for both medical and recreational use.
In a statement from Woodfin, the mayor noted that Birmingham kicked off a Pardons for Progress program in 2019 that was designed to make it easier to have past cannabis convictions pardoned and the records sealed. But those eligible for pardons were required to apply for the relief and only nine convictions have been cleared since the program’s inception.
Under the new plan announced by Woodfin on Tuesday, closed cases from 1990 through 2020 that resulted in a conviction for misdemeanor marijuana possession charges will be automatically pardoned. Cases still pending before the court would have to be closed before a pardon could be issued. The pardons, however, will not result in a reduction or refund of any fines or fees paid to the court.
Woodfin noted that the new campaign for justice was being initiated in an effort to address the disproportionate impact of convictions for minor marijuana offenses.
“Here’s why we’re doing this—no one should be held up by a single past mistake,” Woodfin wrote in a statement from the mayor’s office. “No one should be denied job opportunities or freedoms due to missteps from the past. No longer will these residents be bound to their past. They deserve a chance to be part of our workforce, to provide for their families, and to achieve success on their own. That new life starts rights here, today, with forgiveness and redemption.”
Beyond Birmingham, Alabama Democratic Party Calls For Adult-Use Legalization
Also on April 20, the Alabama Democratic Party announced that it was calling for the legalization of both medical and adult-use cannabis in the state. The party noted that legalization would save the state millions of dollars it now spends to prosecute cannabis crimes and incarcerate offenders. Additionally, a regulated economy for the cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and sale of cannabis products would create jobs while raising badly needed tax revenue for the state and local governments.
Rep. Chris England, a member of the Alabama House of Representatives and the chair of the state Democratic Party, told local media that thousands of people have been “trapped” in the state’s criminal justice system because of marijuana prohibition laws.
“Nearly 100 years of marijuana prohibition and criminalization has trapped thousands of Alabamians, mostly Black, in our broken criminal justice system,” England said in a press release. “Reforming policy surrounding cannabis not only serves our state in producing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues, but is an important step in reducing arrests and expunging records. Nobody should be sitting in jail for carrying a little bit of weed.”
In February, lawmakers in the Alabama Senate passed a bill to legalize medical marijuana, sending the proposal to the House for consideration. And last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure that would end jail time for cannabis possession convictions. In his statement, England called for Alabama to take the lead on comprehensive and significant marijuana policy reform in the region.
“We’ve had the discussions in the legislature about medical marijuana, and that’s a good first step, but let’s not allow Mississippi or Georgia to legalize recreational sales before we do,” he said. “We’ve seen the progress that other states have made. Alabama could be the first state in the Deep South to legalize cannabis for recreational use.”