It’s a transitional time for cannabis law in the U.S. Even more than ever before, the regulations, penalties and enforcement for marijuana are ridiculously uneven across the nation. What might get you a slap on the wrist in one state can result in having the whole hand chopped off in another.
Case in point: Lee Carroll Brooker, a 73 year-old sentenced to life in prison by an Alabama judge after getting busted for growing less than three pounds of cannabis in his backyard, an action that might not even be against the law in other parts of the country.
Brooker’s lawyers have fought the ruling, bringing it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court this week, on grounds that the extreme sentence was a case of cruel and unusual punishment, as outlined by the Constitution. But the Supreme Court Monday ruled “no dice” for Brooker, according to the Associated Press.
The defendant doesn’t suffer only from Alabama’s antiquated weed laws, which deem any quantity over 2.2 pounds a felony (even if it’s used for personal, medical use by a disabled veteran, as Brooker claims).
Brooker is also a victim of another legal injustice which is still in the process of being rolled back: mandatory minimum sentencing. Conviction of the felony possession of a controlled substance in Alabama results in mandatory life imprisonment without parole if the accused is already a felon, which Brooker was. As a younger man, he was convicted of armed robbery and drug smuggling.
The really unfortunate thing is that not many people actually seem to want Brooker to be in jail for the rest of his life. There just isn’t much they can do about it. Even the judge who gave the initial sentence said he would have been more lenient if the mandatory minimum law allowed him any discretion in the case. And Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has said that the sentence was “excessive and unjustified” and showcased “grave flaws” in the state’s laws.
There’s been a great deal of pushback against mandatory minimum drug laws, intensifying in the last few years and resulting in the dissolvement of such existing laws in Maryland and scaling them back in California and other states.
Until laws change to catch up with the times, there’s going to be people going away for life in Alabama prisons for doing the same thing that no one would even bat an eye at in Oregon. Hopefully when these laws do change, they can be retroactively applied to people like Brooker.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons