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Drug War Mess

Just as the State House has passed legislation to reduce the penalty for marijuana possession (under an ounce) down to a $50 civil fine, two of our citizens were arrested in Alabama for having a small amount of marijuana. They are charged with “simple possession,” but in Alabama, this amounts to a class A misdemeanor and could get the men up to a year in jail and a $6,000 fine. Both were being held on $1,000 bond after their arrest.

The pair, Jason Zubia and Charles Torres, were in a van with temporary New Mexico plates, traveling on Highway 72 in Jackson County, Alabama. After the stop, a drug dog was called in and, according to the Times Free Press, three pill containers containing marijuana were found, along with “drug paraphernalia.”

The discrepancy between New Mexico law and Alabama law illustrates the patchwork of laws citizens face when they travel. Even valid medical marijuana patients in New Mexico would not be protected from arrest and prosecution in most states – only five currently recognize out-of-state medical marijuana cards. Anyone who drives through a “hardline” state with cannabis will risk imprisonment and serious fines.

From Alabama’s perspective, states like ours that have partially legalized the drug act as exporter states, a source for smuggling illegal substances into their jurisdiction. While the amount seized in this case doesn’t indicate smuggling, police are well aware of the differences in availability of cannabis between Alabama and more permissive states.

Medical marijuana patients should be aware of the facts before they undertake to travel. Having a card from New Mexico is not a “get out of jail free” card elsewhere. A summary of state laws on marijuana can be found here for those states that allow cannabis for medical purposes. In a confusing legal environment, the old saying is still true: “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

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