The November elections showed a broadening attitude of acceptance for marijuana legalization. Several states expanded their allowances, making recreational use legal alongside medical use. Other states took the first step, legalizing medical marijuana.
The election of President Trump gave rise to speculation that a loosening of federal marijuana laws might be on the horizon. That change would hand over decisions to the states. State laws are permitted to be stricter than federal law but never less strict. The states that have legalized marijuana at any level have done so in defiance of federal law. This means that citizens of those states can still be prosecuted federally if the government chose to do so.
A federal legalization would do away with that consequence. States could then decide to allow federal regulations to stand or enact more stringent laws, keeping marijuana classified as illegal. States would also be responsible for punishing violations.
Marijuana is classified, many say erroneously, as a Schedule I drug by the DEA. This means that punishments for possession, growing, transporting, and selling marijuana are the same as those for similar acts involving drugs such as heroin or cocaine. Unsurprisingly, marijuana advocates argue that the classification punishes people unjustly.
States that choose to follow the questionable idea of marijuana as a Schedule I substance often enact harsh sentences. Alabama is one of those states.
The state, also influenced by its position in the Bible Belt of America, is one of three that mandate the harshest punishments in the nation for marijuana; life without parole for simple possession of small amounts of marijuana by people with certain prior felony convictions.
Lee Carroll Brooker is a recent victim of the laws that many call draconian.
Mr. Brooker has a past, one that did include a stint of crime. He was convicted of a string of robberies in Florida and served 10 years in prison. His story is much more complicated though.
Mr. Brooker joined the Army at the age of 17. He was deployed in both Lebanon and the Dominican Republic during his service, seeing combat in both places. He rose to the rank of Sergeant in the 82nd Airborne and was awarded medals for his infantry service.
Possibly due to his time in combat, the now 77 year old man is disabled and suffering from multiple chronic conditions. As many people do, including a large number of veterans, Brooker chose to treat his conditions with marijuana instead of prescription drugs.
Living in a state with such laws, Brooker could not buy medical marijuana from a dispensary like other states allow. He made the fateful decision to plant marijuana plants in his backyard. The minor infraction paling in comparison to the medical benefits he gained.
Marijuana users, especially those with true medical conditions, will speak passionately on behalf of its uses. Big Pharma produces thousands of drugs for legal use. These medicines often carry high prices, a long list of terrible side effects, and a level of dependency that many find unbearable.
Brooker had to weight cost of each of his choices. To him, using marijuana was preferable. He probably never imagined what the ultimate price would be.
The amount of usable marijuana found in Brookers yard varies among sources. The law in Alabama uses its harsh sentence for amounts over 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram). It has been reported that Brooker’s plants weighed about 2.8 pounds, including the unusable parts of the plants.
Whatever the exact weight, it was enough to put Brooker in jail and on trial. It has been noted that, “[W]hile the sentence was mandatory, the prosecutor was not required to bring the precise charges that triggered it. Prosecutorial discretion here, as in most cases, is a central factor in determining what punishment defendants face.”
The prosecutor in Brooker’s case went for the maximum, life in jail, and somehow won. There were no additional charges of intent to distribute or anything similar. This 77 year old disabled veteran will spend the rest of his life in jail for choosing marijuana over legal drugs to treat himself.
With little left to lose, Brooker challenged the ruling. An Alabama judge, Chief Justice Roy Moore admitted that the sentence was “excessive and unjust.” Yet he refused to hear the case.
With acceptance of marijuana growing and its medical benefits becoming better known, many feel the time for these strict laws has past. The Free Thought Project is one of the leading advocates for the end of the war on drugs. Government officials, celebrities, and even some law enforcement are joining together, recognizing that pursuing convictions in cases like Brooker’s utilizes resources that could be better used somewhere else.
President Trump has not issued a decisive statement regarding his plan for marijuana. Even if he lifts the federal ban, states would still be free to keep their strict penalties so people like Mr. Brooker would still suffer.
The removal of marijuana from the DEA’s list of Schedule I drugs would go a long way towards correcting the problem. Swept up in the 80’s war on drugs, the DEA has incorrectly classified a drug that many feel does more good than harm.
The next few years will undoubtedly bring more changes to this industry and laws throughout the country. There may be some hope for Mr. Brooker and others if the federal government does clear up some of the controversy surrounding the drug.
In the meantime, Mr. Brooker is left to suffer. Not only is sitting in jail for being a victim of disease, he is probably worse off medically and on several narcotics. His current situation could be remedied by the Alabama Supreme Court. Certainly, Mr. Brooker deserves that chance to appeal his vicious sentence.