Alabama mayor paves way for marijuana reform, pardons 15,000 offenders
In a move timed to coincide with 4/20 (pronounced four-twenty), an April 20th "holiday" celebrating all forms of cannabis, Birmingham mayor Randall Woodfin announced that his administration will be pardoning more than 15,000 city residents who have prior marijuana convictions.
The announcement marks an expansion of the city's existing Pardons for Progress program which allows individuals convicted specifically of Unlawful Possession of Marijuana, 2nd degree—a Class A misdemeanor—to apply for an official pardon. Under that program, offenders must have been found guilty in Birmingham Municipal Court within the last 20 years in order to be eligible for a pardon. Yesterday's declaration from the mayor's office, however, goes further to provide blanket pardons to all residents with closed cannabis cases that ended in conviction.
Striking a tone of compassion, Woodfin explained the city's motivation for the move, saying, "no one should be held up by a single past mistake." The mayor also cited the economic impact that low-level marijuana offenses can have on job seekers since employers can legally deny job opportunities for applicants with cannabis convictions.
"No longer will these residents be bound to their past. They deserve a chance to be part of our work force, to provide for their families and to achieve success on their own. That new life starts rights here, today, with forgiveness and redemption," said Woodfin in a statement released by the city. African-Americans are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than white American, despite identical rates of usage.
Although the legislation will surely make a significant difference for eligible individuals, those with currently pending legal cases involving marijuana will not be granted pardons. Mayor Woodfin acknowledged the limitations of the announcement via an additional statement on his official Twitter account, calling the work of marijuana reform "far from done" and inviting his Twitter followers to sign a petition for the decriminalization of marijuana in Alabama.
Incidentally, the Alabama Democratic Party also made a 4/20 announcement via Twitter supporting statewide decriminalization of the plant. In a series of tweets, the organization cited pro-cannabis statistics and directed followers to a marijuana fact sheet posted on the Alabama Democratic Party website.
The Alabama legislature is currently considering a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state. The Senate has already passed the legislation and the House is expected to consider the bill before the end of the legislative session.