Alabama goes full drug war in sentencing Iraq War veteran to five years in prison for cannabis possession

Jul 14, 2020

In one of the most serious abuses of the judicial system since the legalization of cannabis over the past decade, a Pickens County, Alabama judge has sentenced an Arizona man to five years in prison following the revocation of his probation for a 2016 cannabis arrest.

Iraq War Veteran Sean Worsley was arrested in the town of Gordo for marijuana possession following a routine stop by officers for what was initially a noise complaint. The couple was accused of playing their music too loudly in their car when they stopped for gas, according to the Alabama Political Reporter.

When Officer Carl Abramo said he smelled cannabis, Worsley allowed him to search the vehicle, leading to his arrest. 

However, Worsley, who is from Arizona, legally used cannabis for post-traumatic stress disorder. According to APR, he was wounded in an IED attack and suffered from back and shoulder pain. Arizona is one of 33 states where medical cannabis is legal. Alabama is not.

The result, according to The Washington Post, was a years-long legal fight that cost Worsley thousands of dollars and eventually caused him to go homeless, all the while, the legal cannabis industry continued to rake in billions of dollars. At one point, Worsley missed a court date in Alabama when the VA rejected his application for a substance abuse program.

According to APR, Worsley’s medical cannabis card expired in Arizona. He was then extradited back to Alabama by state authorities, where he is now awaiting a spot in an Alabama Department of Corrections facility.

It’s the sixth circle of hell of this country’s cannabis laws.

“I feel like I’m being thrown away by a country I went and served for,” Worsley wrote in a letter from the Pickens County Jail to Alabama Appleseed, which is a criminal justice organization that has published a detailed account of his case, according to the Washington Post. “I feel like I lost parts of me in Iraq, parts of my spirit and soul that I can’t ever get back.”

Worsley’s story is a prime example of not only the terrible discrepancy in state cannabis laws but both the racial disparities of the criminal justice system and America’s lack of appreciation for the men and women who serve this country in uniform.

“The Alabama Cannabis Industry Association has seen the need to bring clarity to the laws related to the medical marijuana issue facing our citizens,” said Michael Fritz, the general sel for the Alabama Cannabis Industry Association in a statement to APR.

Alabama District Attorney Andrew Hamlin has doubled-down on Worsley’s conviction, however. In a letter sent out on Tuesday, he ignored Worsley’s service and the legality of cannabis in Arizona, instead choosing to focus on the veteran’s history of possession arrests. “While it is true that Mr. Worsley is a decorated veteran of the United States military, it is also true that he is a criminal that has habitually broken the law in numerous states,” wrote Hamlin, who tried to make every excuse he could for arresting and throwing the book at Worsley.

In the meantime, a bill to legalize medical cannabis has passed the Alabama Senate, though that won’t help Worsley at this time. 

“It’s time to permit medical cannabis in our state, as our sister states have done and avoid needlessly jamming our already over crowed prisons with marijuana arrests,” said Chey Garrigan, the executive director of the ACIA, to APR.

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