Marijuana Leaf

Considering the immense overcrowding in Alabama’s jails and prisons and the 22 million dollars estimated by the SPLC that it costs to enforce marijuana prohibition laws in the state, the time is right to support H.B. 96. The bill still treats possession as a crime; but paying a fine for relatively small amounts of pot makes a whole lot more sense than throwing non-violent offenders in jail. The rest of the country is finally realizing how absurd harsh marijuana laws have hurt their communities and there’s a growing push to have the plant’s status as a Schedule 1 drug by the DEA reexamined. Already some cannibinoids and CBD oils have been rescheduled, but there’s still no reason for recreational pot to still be in the same category as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.

Increasingly, voters are realizing that the War on Drugs has been an epic and expensive failure that has ruined countless lives and laid whole communities to waste. Politicians have been quick to spend enormous piles of money on interdiction and incarceration; but they seem to loathe funding prevention programs and evidenced-based treatment and rehabilitation efforts. The “lock-‘em-up-and-throw-away-the-key” mentality makes for great stump speeches and photo-ops, yet falls woefully short of solving the problem.

If you’re skeptical about claims that the War on Drugs has been ineffective, you may want to consider that after spending billions upon billions for decades, we’re currently in the midst of a deadly opioid crisis that is killing hundreds of Americans daily. Again, we’re trying to pass harsher laws instead of providing more opportunities for drug abuse treatment, education, and prevention.

In Alabama, maybe we could take the 22 million that we were spending on busting pot smokers and use those savings to help people that are addicted to opioids and other severely harmful drugs. In fact, by going a step further and legalizing marijuana, Alabama could raise another 30-50 million dollars in sorely needed state revenue through sales and excise taxes. That’s food for thought considering we just passed another regressive tax on gasoline to repair our state’s roads and bridges. This shouldn’t be a pipe dream when over 60% of Americans favor legalization and in conservative Alabama, it’s a majority 57% that would like to see it legal.

Even now, there are commercials on cable television featuring former Republican House Speaker John Boehner enthusiastically advocating that people invest in the growing marijuana industry. Folks, the times have changed and it makes no sense whatsoever to continue to treat marijuana the same way we treat far more harmful and lethal drugs. We’ve been there and done that and it didn’t work out well for hardly anyone.

An increasing number of states have seen the wisdom and financial benefits of either decriminalizing or wholly legalizing marijuana. There are efforts currently underway in the U.S. Congress to dismantle the federal prohibition of pot. Obviously, decriminalization and legalization aren’t synonymous, but either would be an improvement over wasting taxpayer dollars the way we have for decades.

The passage of H.B. 96 should be a bipartisan no-brainer. Now, there will certainly be partisan debate over legalization, but more and more Republicans are starting to realize that marijuana legalization could be an enormous boon to the state in terms of income and jobs. It’s a debate worth having. Also, Alabama could learn from the successes and mistakes that other states have made in these efforts.

H.B. 96 is a major first step in reforming harsh sentencing laws that have had a devastating impact on our state. It would certainly relieve pressure on our overburdened courts and judges. Passing H.B. 96 would be a great bipartisan win for our state.

Maybe, comedian Bill Murray had it right when he tweeted, “We should legalize cannabis in all 50 states, use the taxes to repair roads & highways and call it operation pothole.”

Clete Wetli
Clete Wetli is former Chair of the Madison County Democrats and a liberal political activist.