On April 20, a day that is heavily aligned with the celebration of marijuana, Birmingham, Alabama Mayor Randall Woodfin announced that the city will issue blanket pardons for individuals who have been convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possessions within the last 30 years.
In addition to granting clemency, which will simultaneously pardon 15,000 people, Woodfin shared a petition on Twitter to garner support for the total decriminalization of marijuana within the state of Alabama.
“Today, I issued a pardon of 15,000 people convicted of marijuana possession in Birmingham between 1990-2020,” he wrote. “These pardons are a strong start, but our work is far from done. Join me in telling the State of Alabama to completely decriminalize marijuana.”
Today, I issued a pardon of 15,000 people convicted of marijuana possession in Birmingham between 1990-2020. These pardons are a strong start, but our work is far from done.
Join me in telling the State of Alabama to completely decriminalize marijuana. https://t.co/qAFvbjJour
— Randall Woodfin (@randallwoodfin) April 20, 2021
The action is taking place in tandem with Birmingham’s Pardons for Progress Initiative, which applies exclusively to closed cases within the Birmingham Municipal Court, and does not cover fees, fines or other costs connected to the respective cases.
“For clarity, Pardons for Progress only addresses a prior closed conviction of Unlawful Possession of Marijuana, 2nd Degree (Class A misdemeanor) in Birmingham Municipal Court,” Woodfin’s statement to Pardons for Progress reads. “If there is a closed conviction of Possession of Drug Paraphernalia (Class A misdemeanor) connected to the marijuana possession conviction, it will also be considered.”
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Alabama spent $22 million in 2016 on enforcing marijuana possession as a criminal offense, which if redistributed, could go towards funding for Pre-K classrooms, school teachers and Medicaid coverage for children. The study also found that Black people were four times more likely than white people to be arrested for possession, despite using at similar rates.
“Here’s why we’re doing this – no one should be held up by a single past mistake. No one should be denied job opportunities or freedoms due to missteps from the past,” Woodfin said in the statement.
Birmingham officials said the Pardons for Progress program, which was established in 2019, is designed to make it easier for people to receive job offers. People with misdemeanor charges typically struggle to pass background checks that are typically required for employment.
“They [offenders] deserve a chance to be part of our workforce, to provide for their families and to achieve success on their own,” Woodfin added. “That new life starts rights here, today, with forgiveness and redemption.”
The Alabama Democratic Party also announced Tuesday that they are joining the fight to decriminalize marijuana for both recreational and medical use.
“Nearly 100 years of marijuana prohibition and criminalization has trapped thousands of Alabamians, mostly Black, in our broken criminal justice system,” Alabama Democrats Chair Rep. Chris England said, NBC15 reported. “Reforming policy surrounding cannabis not only serves our state in producing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues, but is an important step in reducing arrests and expunging records. Nobody should be sitting in jail for carrying a little bit of weed.”
While reforming marijuana policies will not only help exonerate those convicted for possession, doing so also has the potential to create an influx of economic opportunities.
“Alabama spends millions of dollars annually keeping people locked up for possessing marijuana. Not only could Alabama save this money, but could also bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, thousands of jobs, and opportunities for farmers and entrepreneurs in Alabama to thrive in a new business market,” a press release shared with NBC15 stated.