Opinion: Decriminalize it! Alabama’s uncertain future with cannabis

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What is SB 46?

On May 17, 2021, Alabama became the 37th state to legalize medical marijuana. A 102-page invoice, CS46 was written by Republican Senator Tim Melson who represents Alabama’s 1st District.

SB 46 represents history in the making. It legalizes the use of medical cannabis for the following disorders and diseases: autism spectrum disorders, cancer related cachexia, Crohn’s disease, depression, epilepsy or conditions causing seizures, nausea or weight loss related to HIV/AIDS, panic, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, sickle cell anemia, spasticity-related diseases, terminal illnesses, Tourette’s syndrome and chronic pain.

Under SB 46, medical marijuana can be sold in the form of tablets, capsules, tinctures, gels, oils, creams, suppositories, transdermal patches, nebulizers and liquids, or oils for use in an inhaler. Marijuana cannot be sold as “raw plant material”, products for smoking or vaping, or in food products.

the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission will oversee marijuana sales in the state. The commission consists of a 14-member council of medical, legal and agricultural professionals who will manage a seed-for-sale program.

Alabama’s historic attitude toward drug use and imprisonment

In Alabama, possession of marijuana without a medical marijuana card or grow license will remain a Class B felony. Class B felonies typically result in prison sentences of two to 20 years, with fines of up to $30,000.

Alabama has always had an intolerant attitude toward marijuana use. With this atmosphere of tough policing and harsh penalties, the future of medical marijuana looks dangerous.

There are many obstacles to the use of medical marijuana in the state of Alabama that the SB 46 will need to overcome. the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice writes that “Alabama’s failure to expand Medicaid limits public funding for drug treatment and rehabilitation. Options are patchy and underfunded, leading to an overreliance on prisons for people who need medical care, not punishment.

Finances are not only an obstacle to medicine and health; they are also an obstacle to democratic ideas, such as voting. Alabama law denies voting to thousands of eligible Alabamians who cannot repay fines and court costs.

“All Alabamians deserve equal justice under the law,” said Alabama Arise, a nonprofit that works to promote state policies that improve the lives of low-income Alabamians. “But from court costs to civil asset forfeiture to capital punishment, our state’s justice system contains a range of policies that often weigh most heavily on those living in poverty.”

Non-violent drug crimes, prisons and people of color

In fact, drug offenses account for more felony convictions and new jails than any other offence, says the AACLJ. Alabama Sentencing Commission reports felony drug possession convictions up 25% over 2017 for 2019.

This strict monitoring of drug use is having lasting effects in the state. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit organization aimed at exposing the harms of mass incarceration, Alabama has a ratio of 946 inmates per 100,000 citizens, the fifth highest incarceration rate. in the world. This horrible reality must be corrected.

Unfortunately, the state has no intention of slowing down his mass incarceration. In October 2021, Governor Kay Ivey signed a $1.3 billion prison construction bill in the law.

“Reaching a solution to our problems rather than a court warrant was paramount, and that’s what happened today,” Ivey said before signing the bill.

There is nothing paramount in strengthening a police state. Alabama politicians are completely ignoring the prison crisis in favor of profitable private prisons.

“Our system is in a current humanitarian crisis. And not all questions can be answered with new prisons. Buildings will do nothing with the culture of corruption in our prisons,” said state Rep. Chris England, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party.

The bill puts the state in debt by $785 million, while another $400 million of the $2.1 billion in state COVID relief funds went to fund the two men’s prisons.

State Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Chairman Greg Albritton said the bill is “a huge step in solving many of the difficulties that we have.” This rhetoric is archaic and tired, and it needs to stop. The best way to remedy the difficulties in Alabama’s prisons is not to build more; it is to reduce the prison population as a whole.

Decreasing the prison population begins with clearing all those incarcerated for non-violent drug-related offences. This alone will reduce Alabama’s total prison population by nearly 15%, according to Alabama Appleseed.

Decriminalization of drugs

SB 46 is a surprising step forward, but it’s an embarrassing compromise that still restricts and criminalizes the use of marijuana for those without life-threatening debilitating illnesses and diseases.

A poll conducted by Yahoo! News and Marist discovered that around 75% of marijuana users do not use the drug for medical or pain relief purposes, but for recreational purposes, for relaxation, socialization and creativity. Marijuana deserves to be decriminalized.

It is important to note that America’s attitude toward drugs has been hostile and dangerous ever since President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs in the 1970s. The war on drugs, rather than improving the health of American communities, failed, the Global Commission on Drug Policy noted.

“The arrest and incarceration of tens of millions of these people over the past decades has filled prisons and destroyed the lives of families without reducing the availability of illicit drugs or the power of criminal organizations,” the commission concluded.

The response of states like Oregon has been to decriminalize drugs, and sometimes all of them.

“Criminalization keeps people in the shadows. It stops people from asking for help, talking to their doctor, telling family members they have a problem,” said Michael Schmidt, attorney for Multnomah County, Oregon, home of Portland. Schmidt supported Measure 110, which legalized and decriminalized all drugs in Oregon.

The result? A decrease in opioid-related emergencies, several studies have found. In a state like Alabama, where the opioid crisis is rife, especially in rural communities, the legalization of drugs, especially marijuanacould change that.

Portugal, which decriminalized drugs in 2001, has seen more than just a decrease in opioid-related incidents. The country, which once had the worst rates of drug use in the European Union, now has rates well below the European and American averages. According to Drug Policy Alliance.

Not only does drug decriminalization have the ability to save states and countries money, it has the ability to save livelihoods lost to the dangers of clandestine and illicit drug abuse and addiction.

By decriminalizing drugs, the stigma around seeking help also decreases significantly, leading to a more tolerant and healthier society overall.

According to National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Stigma hinders access to care and reduces the quality of care people receive. People who use drugs, especially those who inject drugs, are often suspicious when presenting for emergency care or when visiting other providers. They are often treated in a degrading and dehumanizing way,” the institute said.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that “fear of negative reviews by neighbors or members of their community is one of the reasons people who know they need treatment for a substance use disorder avoid seeking it.

Stigma kills. Decriminalization and compassion have been proven to save and resolve ongoing crises.

What can be done?

There is no better time than now to decriminalize natural drugs like marijuana. Not only will this alleviate the current crisis in Alabama prisons, but natural medicines have an array of health benefits, such as reducing anxiety, relieving pain, killing cancer and slowing tumor growth, and stimulating appetite in people with cancer and AIDS.

There are several student organizations at the University that focus on or present issues involving the corrupt prison system and its relationship to drugs, such as Tide against time and AL students against prisons. This is an issue that students are concerned about, and it is through their efforts that we may see the end of mass incarceration.

Every student can be part of the solution. Contact your Alabama state officials and state senators to let them know that community health and safety must be a priority and that building more prisons is not the legacy we want to build.

If Alabama wants to prove it’s a leader in the future, it needs to stop compromising on what a leader is. majority Americans want and decriminalize nature, once and for all.

This story originally appeared in the Health edition. See the full issue here.

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