Birmingham's Mayor Woodfin at town hall. Photo credit: Same McPherson creative commons.

Birmingham mayor pardons thousands of residents who had marijuana cases

Alabama mayor tackles state’s tough measures on cannabis.

“Millions of people, disproportionately from Black and Brown communities, have had their lives upended due to marijuana charges from decades ago,” said Mayor Woodfin after pardoning over 15,000 residents with closed marijuana possession cases in the City between 1990 and 2020. The pardon took place around the 4/20 holiday, a global celebration of cannabis use. 

He continued. “These charges have led to arrests, convictions and even jail time, as well as criminal records that make it harder to find housing, receive a good paying job to earn a living, or receive financial assistance to earn a college education.”

According to a report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Black Alabama residents are four times more than likely to be arrested for marijuana charges than whites. Over 83 percent of the arrests are for possession rather than the sale (7.5%) or production of cannabis (1.5%). 

Alabama has some of the harshest marijuana prohibition laws in the country. Annually, the state spends about $22 million to enforce marijuana them. In the state, those charged with marijuana possession for personal use receive a fine of up to $6,000 and can be sentenced to a year in prison. This misdemeanor stays on record.

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“Alabama’s marijuana laws have become one more excuse for over-policing communities of color,” said faith leader, Dr. Rupert Busher Jr., who is the former senior pastor at Mount Calvary 7th Day Adventist Church in Huntsville. Dr. Busher, a 58-year-old African American man also cites frequent policing in Black communities by police.

In whole, Alabama has a notorious reputation for its justice system. Ranked the fifth worst in the US, it also has experienced riots and hunger strikes from detainees. Moreover, most inmates are in Alabama’s penal system for drug charges.

With the first step at decriminalizing marijuana locally, Mayor Woodfin is pushing for the state to adopt his city’s measure. Right now, Mayor Woodfin’s pardon is helpful for those who are seeking employment or a drivers license. No action is required to receive the pardon, but to clear the overall record requires more work to get the misdemeanor expunged.

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