The Alabama Cannabis Industry Association on Monday released a statement critical of the decision by an Alabama court to imprison an Arizona man for five years after his probation for a 2016 marijuana arrest was revoked in April.
Sean Worsley was an Iraq War vet who legally uses marijuana for post-traumatic stress disorder, and for back and shoulder pain stemming from being wounded in an IED attack in Iraq.
He and his wife were arrested in Gordo, in Pickens County, in August 2016 after a police officer found the marijuana while questioning the Worsleys about the volume of their music when they stopped to get gas.
That Worsley had a valid medical cannabis card in Arizona — one of 33 states where that is legal — was no defense for the authorities in Pickens County. Worsley missed a court date in Pickens County after the VA rejected his application for a substance abuse program, so Pickens County issued a fugitive arrest warrant.
When Arizona arrested Worsley for letting his medical cannabis card expire, he was extradited back to Alabama. He is currently detained in Pickens County awaiting a spot to become available in an Alabama Department of Corrections facility.
Worsley could spend the next 60 months as a guest of Alabama taxpayers.
“The Alabama Cannabis Industry Association (AlCIA) has seen the need to bring clarity to the laws related to the medical marijuana issue facing our citizens,” said Michael Fritz, the general counsel for the Alabama Cannabis Industry Association.
Fritz said that legislators created the new Class D category of offenses so that habitual offenders don’t serve long prison systems, but they left police and district attorneys with broad discretion to determine whether a person possessing cannabis is using that solely for “personal use.”
That discretion is the difference between having misdemeanor charge and becoming a felon, Fritz said.
“States all across this country have acknowledged the medical benefits that cannabis brings to those suffering” from conditions like PTSD, Fritz said. “The ALCIA is fighting to allow those already suffering to have access to proper medication without the fear of becoming a felon.”
“Sean Worsley is a prime example of why we are fighting,” Fritz told APR. “Medical Marijuana can help our veterans that suffer from PTSD, anxiety as well as pain from physically disabilities. 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 arrest.”
A counselor who treats veterans with PTSD told APR that it is common for veterans with PTSD to use medical marijuana to self-medicate with cannabis and that veterans like Worsley should not be mistreated by our criminal justice system.
Chey Garrigan, the executive director of the ACIA, said that Alabama Appleseed and the Southern Poverty Law Center partnered with Western Carolina University economists Angela K. Dills and Audrey Redford to calculate that enforcing Alabama’s possession of marijuana laws costs the state an estimated $22 million a year.
Fritz told APR that if you are caught with 2.2 pounds of marijuana, the Alabama Courts charge you with trafficking, but that there are no guidelines under Alabama law in how to determine whether an amount smaller than that is for personal use — a minor offense — or not for personal use, which is a Class C felony in the state of Alabama.
Worsley was charged with the Class C offense.
Worsley’s mother has hired an attorney to appeal the conviction. Meanwhile, the Worsleys are hoping that he can receive clemency from the Alabama court system. Sean has already served approximately six months in jail in Arizona and Pickens County for this.
A bill to legalize medical marijuana has passed the Alabama Senate in each of the last two years, but the bills have failed to come to a vote in the Alabama House of Representatives.
“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,” Garrigan said.
Sean’s plight was first made public by original reporting by Alabama Appleseed’s Leah Nelson.
Attorneys ask court to intervene over numerous Alabama inmate suicides
Charles Braggs died by suicide in an Alabama prison after being kept in solitary confinement for more than two years. His suicide and a rash of others in Alabama prisons prompted attorneys for the plaintiffs in a case against the Alabama Department of Corrections to ask the court Wednesday to intervene.
Braggs, 28, died at St. Clair Correctional Facility on July 17 after having been housed in segregation for 796 days, according to the court filing by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program and attorneys with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz.
“Mr. Braggs was the seventh person — and the sixth Black person — to die by suicide in ADOC custody since this Court issued its Remedial Opinion and Judgment on Immediate Relief for Suicide Prevention (the ‘Suicide Prevention Opinion’) in May 2019, in which the Court found ‘substantial and pervasive deficiencies’ in ADOC’s suicide prevention program,” attorneys wrote to the court.
Bragg’s suicide was the fifth in Alabama prisons in the last four months, the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote in the fling, in which they call for “swift implementation and robust monitoring of the Parties’ various remedial agreements” and for the state to address the use of segregation and “segregation-like” cells, which disproportionately hold Black people.
Alabama prisons kept 1,001 people locked alone in segregation on July 28, according to the court filing.
“Of those 1,001, ADOC’s public database lists 705 people as Black and 273 white—that is, approximately 70 percent of the people in segregation are Black,” the filing states, going on to note that Black people make up approximately 52 percent of Alabama’s inmate population and about 27 percent of the population of the state.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson in his May 4, 2019 opinion wrote that ADOC argues the department cannot prevent all suicides in prisons.
“It is true that, as in the free world, not all suicides can be prevented. But this reality in no way excuses ADOC’s substantial and pervasive suicide-prevention inadequacies. Unless and until ADOC lives up to its Eighth Amendment obligations, avoidable tragedies will continue,” the judge wrote.
That 2019 opinion came after the plaintiffs’ attorneys asked the court for immediate suicide-prevention relief following 15 inmate suicides over 15 months. Thompson agreed in his opinion to make permanent most of the provisions of a previous agreement between the plaintiffs and ADOC.
Thompson’s separate judgment, filed the same day as his opinion, establishes minimum guidelines for how the state assesses and treats incarcerated people who may be at risk of suicide.
Among the prison suicides noted in the court filing was Marco Tolbert, 32, who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and prescribed anti-psychotic and anti-depressant medication, but on June 20, 2019, three months before his death, his mental health code — used by ADOC to determine care — was reduced, some of his medication was discontinued and he was moved out of Donaldson prison’s residential treatment unit and into the general population and “was not provided any follow-up mental health care,” according to the filing.
He died by suicide on Sept. 26, 2019, according to court records.
Marquell Underwood, 22, was placed into segregation at Easterling Correctional Facility on Feb. 23 and died by suicide that same day, according to court records.
“Mr. Underwood previously reported a history of Bipolar Disorder, was referred to mental health nine times in relation to segregation placements, self-referred once to mental health, and was placed on acute suicide watch twice during the six months before his death,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote to the court. “Despite all of this, he was never placed on the mental health caseload, never received a psychiatric evaluation, and never received any mental health treatment.”
Laramie Avery, 32, died by suicide in his segregation cell at Bullock prison on April 14 and was placed in segregation for “disciplinary” reasons after being stabbed at least eight times in the head and chest, according to the filing.
“Mr. Avery was referred for a mental health evaluation three days before his suicide, but there is no evidence that the evaluation ever occurred. He was not on the mental health caseload,” the court filing states.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys also note the death of Darnell McMillian on June 22 at Donaldson prison. McMillian died while on suicide watch and after having been placed into a cell with another inmate also on suicide watch.
“After an altercation between Mr. McMillian and his cellmate, correctional officers allegedly deployed pepper spray, which caused Mr. McMillian to become unconscious and may have led to his death. It is unclear what policies ADOC has instituted, if any, to ensure the safety of those on suicide watch who are double-celled,” attorneys wrote to the court.
An ADOC worker told APR in July that correctional officers used an excessive amount of pepper spray in the cell where McMillian and another inmate were housed. The cause of his death is pending an autopsy.
Jones campaign director blasts Tuberville for saying $600 “too much” for out-of-work Alabamians
The communications director for U.S. Sen. Doug Jones’s re-election campaign on Wednesday called out Tommy Tuberville for saying that $600 in emergency unemployment aid was too much for Alabamians.
“Tommy Tuberville once again proves he’s out of touch with Alabama. When he ‘resigned’ from his job as a football coach he took a $5.1 million payout for himself. To this day, he receives $800 a week in State Retirement funds for a coaching job he ‘quit’ in 2008,” said Owen Kilmer, communications Director for Jones’s Senate campaign, in a statement Wednesday.
“But he says $600 in emergency benefits is ‘way too much’ for people in Alabama who lost their jobs in this crisis through no fault of their own. Tuberville says $600 is ‘way too much’ to help people put food on the table and pay utilities,” Kilmer continued. “No wonder, when asked about how to handle this crisis, he said ‘I wouldn’t have a clue.’ It’s true. He doesn’t.”
Tuberville, the Republican Senate nominee, is trying to unseat Jones in the November general election. Jones has called the former Auburn football coach and first-time political candidate an “unprepared hyper-partisan.”
Sens. Doug Jones, Cory Gardner introduce the American Dream Down Payment Act
Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and Republican Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner have introduced the American Dream Down Payment Act of 2020, a bipartisan piece of legislation that would help prospective homeowners save for a traditional 20 percent down payment by creating special tax-advantaged savings accounts for eligible housing costs.
“As the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate our nation’s economy, it is getting even harder for many folks in Alabama and across the country to put money away in savings and to work toward the American dream of owning a home,” Jones said. “Down payments are the biggest barrier to homeownership for first-time homebuyers, especially among low-income and minority Americans, and make it harder to build generational wealth that is often tied to home-ownership. Our legislation would provide a new path to help make the dream of buying a home a reality by making it easier to save money for down payments and other housing-related costs.”
“A down payment on a home can be a significant barrier to becoming a homeowner,” Gardner said. “Inspired by the popular 529 education savings accounts, this bipartisan bill will make it easier for people to save for a down payment, which will aid both our unique housing challenges in Colorado and our economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m proud to work with Senators Jones and Brown to help more families achieve the American Dream and own a home.”
These accounts would be similar to the popular 529 Plan accounts that encourage people to save pre-tax money to pay for future education expenses. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is the ranking member of the Senate Banking and Housing Committee and an original co-sponsor of the legislation.
The sponsors cite a recent survey by the Urban Institute that found that more than two-thirds of renters view down payments as a barrier to owning a home. As rents and student loan debt rise, it can be harder for prospective homeowners to save for a down payment, especially if they are a first-time homebuyer or aren’t able to receive help from family members.
“Borrowers of color have been locked out of affordable homeownership for decades,” Brown said. “The gap in Black and white homeownership rates remain as large now as it was before the Fair Housing Act was signed into law. These troubling and persistent inequities in homeownership rates have prevented generations of Black and brown families from obtaining the American dream of owning a home. The American Dream Down Payment Act is a new tool to help make homeownership a reality.”
Even though the nationwide homeownership rate is relatively stable, there are significant disparities in homeownership by age, race and ethnicity. The Black homeownership rate, which peaked just prior to the Great Recession, has fallen to a 50-year low in 2016, at just 41.7 percent. That remains nearly 30 points below the white homeownership rate. This is before the recent COVID-19 economic panic. Millennials are less likely to own a home by age 34 than their parents or grandparents were. If these trends continue, a growing number of Americans will be locked out of homeownership.
“The introduction of the American Dream Down Payment Act offers Black American families and individuals the opportunity to build legacy wealth through homeownership,” Brown added. “The ability to accumulate tax-free savings funds breaks down/eliminates one of the most prominent barriers to achieving homeownership, the down payment. This Act serves as a tangible springboard to increase Black homeownership and real wealth-building prospects which the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) includes in the meaning of its time-honored slogan, Democracy in Housing,” said Donnell Williams, National President, National Association of Real Estate Brokers.”
The American Dream Down Payment Act would let states establish American Dream Down Payment Accounts, which they would manage in the same way they manage 529 Plan accounts today. It would also allow prospective homeowners to save up as much as 20 percent of today’s housing cost, indexed for inflation, to use for an eligible down payment and other housing costs. It would facilitate long-term savings for a down payment and allow contributions from family and friends and allow homebuyers using their American Dream Down Payment Account savings and earnings to use those funds tax-free at withdrawal for eligible expenses.
To protect American Dream Down Payment Account holders, the Securities and Exchange Commission would be required to set standards for the investments of eligible accounts and allowable fees.
This legislation is supported by the National Association of Realtors, Habitat for Humanity and the National Association of Real Estate Brokers.
Jones is a member of the Senate Banking and Housing Committee. Both Jones and Gardner face tough re-election battles this year.
Payroll Protection Program deadline has been extended to Saturday
Congresswoman Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, this week reminded business owners that the deadline to apply for the Payroll Protection Program, knowns as the PPP, has been extended to Saturday.
“The Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) application deadline was recently extended to Saturday, August 8,” Roby wrote in an email to constituents. “Do not forget to fill out your application if you are a small business that has been impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic.“
The PPP was a loan program administered by the Small Business Administration. It was part of the bipartisan CARES Act to address the economic collapse caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic and the forced economic shutdowns, which were implemented in the early months of the public health emergency in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel strain of the coronavirus and allow public health agencies and health care systems time to build up testing, contact-tracing and hospital bed capacity.
The PPP loans are 1 percent interest loans available through the SBA. If the business uses the money to make payroll and pay standard operating expenses then the loans will be forgiven. Forgiveness is based on the employer maintaining or quickly rehiring employees and maintaining salary levels. Forgiveness will be reduced if full-time headcount declines, or if salaries and wages decrease. The loan forgiveness form and instructions include several measures to reduce compliance burdens and simplify the process for borrowers.
The PPP has been very popular, so much so that that program ran out of money just weeks after Congress passed it. Congress had to go back and provide more funding for the PPP.
Businesses can apply through any existing SBA 7(a) lender or through any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union and Farm Credit System institution that is participating. Other regulated lenders will be available to make these loans once they are approved and enrolled in the program. You should consult with your local lender as to whether it is participating in the program.
Senate Democrats are meeting with the Trump Administration, Senate Republicans and House leadership on a compromise plan for a fifth coronavirus relief package. A big point of contention has been the size of the total package. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, supports a $3.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill while Republicans prefer a more modest $1 trillion relief bill. The two sides are expected to continue to negotiate through Friday in an attempt to reach a compromise before the August recess.
Roby is serving in her fifth term representing Alabama’s 2nd congressional district. She is not seeking re-election.