First Amendment lawsuit filed on behalf of MPP
Last update: November 18, 2016
MPP has joined forces with the Institute for Justice to bring a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state of Alabama, alleging the state is unconstitutionally pricing MPP and MPP Legislative Counsel Maggie Ellinger-Locke out of exercising our First Amendment rights.
We are asking the court to block a uniquely burdensome requirement that would require Ms. Ellinger-Locke to attend an in-person course in Montgomery if she were to send even a single advocacy email to a lawmaker. This class is only held four times a year in Montgomery, and anyone who lobbies as part of their job — including by phone or email — who cannot travel to attend it is silenced from speaking to Alabama lawmakers or risk being criminally charged. You can learn more about the suit by checking out this op-ed by lead counsel for the suit Paul Sherman.
Due to this highly unusual requirement, MPP is unable to advocate improvements to Alabama’s marijuana laws. This has had the effect of chilling the right to free speech enjoyed by Maggie, MPP, and our Alabama members who are counting on us to reform some of the harshest marijuana laws in the nation. Unlike our other states’ pages, this webpage does not even include links urging supporters to write their lawmakers due to the possibility of such a link triggering penalties. For these reasons, we are grateful to the Institute for Justice for bringing this suit so that we can continue our important work as we seek to ameliorate marijuana policies.
Legislative action remains limited
The 2016 legislative session concluded with limited marijuana law reform action. The General Assembly adopted two sensible but modest policy proposals.
The first, Rep. Mike Ball’s HB 61, was signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley on May 4, 2016, and builds on the 2014 passage of Carly’s Law. That law established an affirmative defense for patients with intractable epilepsy (or their caregivers) for use of cannabidiol. HB 61 — or “Leni’s Law” — expands this law by creating an affirmative defense for the use of the oil by patients and caregivers who suffer from specified debilitating conditions that produce seizures that are resistant to conventional medicine provided the patient’s doctor recommends this course of treatment. Carly’s law only permitted healthcare practitioners at the University of Alabama to recommend a patient for use of the oil. MPP applauds this sensible action taken by Alabama lawmakers.
The other policy was enacted on May 10, 2016 and allows for the cultivation of industrial hemp. Rep. Ken Johnson’s HB 393 excludes industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana in the state’s controlled substances law. This allows the use of industrial hemp to create cloth, food, fuel, paper, and a host of other commodities. This is a positive step forward for Alabama.
ACLU study shows Alabama’s harsh marijuana laws result in racially disproportionate arrest rates
Alabama has some of the harshest marijuana penalties in the country. Possession of even a single joint is punishable by up to a year of incarceration. It’s clear these laws have not been successful, and new evidence shows that Alabama’s laws are not being evenly enforced.
A 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that although blacks and whites use marijuana at nearly identical rates, blacks in Alabama are 4.4 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.
To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Alabama, be sure to subscribe to MPP’s free legislative alert service.