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Libertarians believe in the ideals that our nation was founded upon, notably liberty, freedom and individual responsibility for one’s actions, while fully recognizing the liberty, freedom and rights of all others.
We oppose excessive government overreach into the private lives of free citizens. While the list of cases of government overreaches is excessively long, one of the most obvious instances is with regard to the use of cannabis by individuals.
Cannabis, aka hemp or marijuana, is simply, just a plant. By itself, it uses sunshine, rain and soil in order to grow and thrive, and as a byproduct creates the oxygen that we all breathe. It is not poisonous, and the possession of a plant creates zero danger to anyone.
According to genetic and archaeological evidence, cannabis was first domesticated in East Asia about 12,000 years ago. Hemp has long been used for hemp fiber, hemp seeds and their oils, and for medicinal purposes. The etymology of the English word “cannabis” comes from the Greek “kannabis,” which is also the source for English “canvas.”
In 1455, Johannes Gutenberg printed the first Bible on hemp paper. Christopher Columbus sailed to the Americas on ships with canvas sails and ropes made from hemp. The first drafts of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were written on hemp paper. George Washington cultivated hemp at Mount Vernon as a crop.
Most people know that cannabis is also a popular recreational drug, second only to alcohol, caffeine and tobacco in terms of consumption. Historically, before it was banned in the 1930s, cannabis was used in hundreds of medicines.
What changed here in the United States was the influx of refugees fleeing the Mexican Revolution in the 1910s and 1920s, followed by an ensuing clash of cultures. “Marijuana” (the Mexican word used for cannabis) was blamed as the underlying culprit for problems with the immigrants coming from Mexico, and between 1916 and 1931, 29 states outlawed marijuana.
As hemp-produced ethanol competed with his oil-based petroleum empire, and cannabis-based pain medications competed with his opium-based pharmaceutical empire, in the 1930s John D. Rockefeller Jr. advocated for the prohibition of hemp and cannabis through generous political donations.
Despite objections from the American Medical Association related to medical usage of cannabis, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 essentially banned its usage nationwide.
Eventually the United States Congress passed “The Controlled Substances Act” in 1970, and cannabis was given a Schedule-I classification, considered to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. Even though the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s fact sheet states that “No death from overdose of marijuana has been reported,” as a Schedule-I drug, cannabis is considered the same as heroin, LSD or peyote.
Time passed, opinions changed, and American citizens began to reject the excessive government overreach. One by one, beginning with Washington state in 2012, individual states began to repeal marijuana prohibition and enact laws allowing medical and/or recreational usage.
A year ago this month, Gov. Kay Ivey signed Alabama Senate Bill 46 to legalize medical marijuana in Alabama.
Patients can only use cannabis if a physician certifies that traditional medications have failed to improve the patient’s condition. No sale of raw plant materials or food products such as cookies or candies are allowed, and a 9% tax on gross sales of medical cannabis products is also required.
The bill allows the use of cannabis with a physician’s recommendation for treatment of approximately 15 qualifying conditions, including autism spectrum disorder; panic disorder; depression; post-traumatic stress disorder; Crohn’s disease; Tourette syndrome; Parkinson’s disease; sickle cell anemia; epilepsy or an infection that causes seizures; terminal illness; nausea or weight loss related to HIV/AIDS; cancer-related cachexia, nausea or vomiting, weight loss, or chronic pain; spasms associated with motor neuron diseases, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease); spasms associated with multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injuries; persistent nausea that does not respond significantly to conventional treatment (exceptions include: pregnancy-related nausea, cannabis-induced periodic vomiting syndrome, or cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome); and finally, any disorder that causes chronic or refractory pain, in which conventional therapeutic interventions and opioid treatment are not recommended or have been shown to be ineffective.
Unfortunately for the citizens of Alabama, the first cannabis pharmacy has yet to open, and until there are open pharmacies, anyone in Alabama who is found to possess any amount of marijuana, regardless of their medical needs, is subject to current Alabama Code, in which a “personal use” offender for the first time could be charged with second-degree possession (Code of Alabama, Section 13A-12-214).
The offense was classified as a misdemeanor, and the maximum allowable sentence was 1 year in prison (although probation could be suspended and ordered) and a fine of up to $6,000. The first level of possession, section 13A-12-213, was charged with “non-personal use” (i.e., intent to sell) and the second offense and subsequent “personal use.”
The charge is a Class C crime punishable by 1 to 10 years in prison (the mandatory minimum sentence is 1 year and 1 day, and the judge cannot suspend the sentence) and a fine of up to $15,000.
The sale of any amount is a Class B crime punishable by 2 to 20 years’ imprisonment (2 years is the mandatory minimum sentence) and a fine of up to $30,000.
Sale to minors is punishable by a penalty of 10 years in prison or life and a fine of up to $60,000.
In addition, because Alabama is a “smoker, lose your driver’s license,” any conviction for a cannabis-related offense is punishable by a mandatory six-month driver’s license suspension.
With all of the above said, consider how many lives have been ruined by sending people to prison because they sought to use a simple plant to address their personal needs, and consider how many of your personal dollars, paid through taxation, were used to incarcerate thousands upon thousands of individuals.
If you are unhappy with those thoughts, please contact your representative within the Alabama State Legislature and encourage them to move forward at a quicker pace with the decriminalization of personal cannabis use.