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Alabama Cities Censor Political Speech

By Ron Crumpton
Executive Director, Alabama Patients’ Rights Coalition, Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition

There are many wonderful nonprofits working in the state of Alabama trying to change state law on a variety of issues.  These groups are of great importance in the state political structure. Unlike federal legislators, most state legislators do not have a staff, and these nonprofits often act in lieu of staff on an issue-by-issue basis.

The nonprofits bring issues to legislators, have legislation crafted, and provide legislators with the background information necessary to do their jobs. The nonprofits generate support or opposition for a particular piece of legislation. They do this on the backs of volunteers, and they do it with very limited budgets.

It is a difficult task for any nonprofit, but when the nonprofit is supporting a “controversial issue” that task becomes even harder. The prejudices of a single person, or a small group of people, who does not represent the opinion of the public, get to decide for everyone what issues are heard, and what issues or not.

Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition, one of the groups that I represent, is a group that’s sole purpose is to promote education and awareness for the Alabama Medical Marijuana Patients’ Rights Act, which is one of these “controversial issues.”

They do this by setting up booths at festivals and trade days across the state of Alabama. There have been cases where certain trade days have refused to rent them space, but as private businesses, they have the right to refuse to do business with whomever they choose. However, when it is a festival that is being held by, or in conjunction with, state, county or city government it becomes a much larger issue. Then it is not a private business, but our own government stifling the political speech of an organization based on personal opinion and not the opinion of the masses.

So far this year, the Auburn CityFest, The Arab Poke Salat Festival, the Pell City Hometown Block Party and The Alabaster CityFest have denied them booth space.

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In the case of the Arab Poke Salat Festival, it was a single member of the Arab Chamber of Commerce not an elected official or even a city employee. She said that she didn’t agree with it, her personally.

If that is not bad enough, the City of Alabaster approved their application, then two days before the event their check was returned to them. Apparently, after the application was approved, a city official who does not approve of medical marijuana freaked out and changed the approval status.

When they called the vendor phone number, Robin Smith said it was a family event where no alcohol or anything like that was allowed and since a lot of children were going to be there, they and their sponsors felt strongly against marijuana in the same way. When questioned why they accepted the application to start with, she said it was electronically accepted but had to be accepted by the board before granting a booth location. This is just not true.

It was electronically accepted. However, a member of the AMMJC staff spoke with someone at the same number, believed to be Smith, and was told that the organization did have booth. They confirmed this by asking, “So, we definitely have a booth?” the person in the CityFest office said yes.

When Adam Moseley, president of the Arts Council, was contacted, he said that AMMJC’s application was late. Well that is true.

AMMJC did not contact the CityFest office until after the deadline. However, at that time they were told that booths were still available. They requested a picture of a past AMMJC booth, they had them fill out the forms, and told them that because it was past the due date, they needed to send the payment in the form of a certified check or money order. They did that, and that check was returned to them 2 days prior to the event. So, while this is true, it is inconsequential to the facts.

Then there is Alabaster Mayor David Frings who said, “The City Council has chosen the Arts Council to run the event.  I think that Adam Moseley is their president.”

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When asked for his help he replied repeatedly with, “This is all handled by the Arts Council.”

When Mayor Frings was told that the 6,000 patients associated with AMMJC need his help because the people running his cities festival would not return any communications, he referred them to the city attorney.

In other words, Mayor Frings is not sure who is running his cities festival, does not have any authority over the festival, and he does not care about the rights of 6,000 patients; that mayor thing must really be a great gig.

The simple fact is that these organizations, which are such an important part of the state’s political system, are having the rights of their membership violated by their own government.

In a country that is founded on the principle of open government, that guarantees the rights of the minority to speak, this kind of censorship cannot be tolerated.  Not only did the City of Alabaster violate the rights of patients in Alabama, not only did they violate the right of the public to know about the issue, but when they accepted the application and then pulled the booth from AMMJC they saddled this struggling organization with hundreds of dollars in expenses and no way to recoup them.

If you live in Alabaster and you are appalled, by the way your city leaders handled this situation… Elections are in August.

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