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Veteran Faces 5 Years in Prison for Medical Marijuana

Sean Worsley
PHOTO Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice


Veteran Faces 5 Years in Prison for Medical Marijuana

In Alabama, a Black disabled vet was sentenced to five years for cannabis that he uses medicinally in a legal state. A medical marijuana bill in the state seemed likely to pass this year, but was aborted when the legislature was shut down by the COVID-19 crisis.

For those who recall Alabama’s status during the Civil Rights era, there is a disturbing sense of a historical cycle coming around again. With the country suddenly focused on a long-overdue reckoning with racial justice, a particularly egregious case from the Deep South state has made national headlines, and cannabis is at the heart of it.

The Sean Worsley Case

Sean Worsley is an African American veteran who served in Iraq and won a Purple Heart for wounds sustained in combat. A traumatic brain injury and other wounds have left him with chronic pain that he treats with cannabis. He also uses the herb for post-traumatic stress — to calm his nightmares. The modest few grams (about two or three joints worth) that may land him in Alabama prison were purchased legally under the medical marijuana program in Arizona, where he lived. Currently, the COVID-19 emergency is the only thing stalling his incarceration.  

The story was broken by the local Alabama Political Reporter but has received some wider coverage, including a write-up in the Washington Post on July 14.

Back in August of 2016, Worsley and his wife Eboni were arrested on a family road trip from Arizona to Mississippi and North Carolina. After visiting Eboni’s family in Mississippi, the couple headed east to North Carolina. Their stop for gas in Alabama’s Pickens County proved to be a life changing error.

A local police officer in the town of Gordo approached the Worsleys at the gas station, telling them their music was too loud, supposedly a violation of the town’s noise ordinance. In the wry comment of progressive advocacy group Alabama Appleseed, Worsley was accosted for “playing air guitar while black.” 

The officer asked if he could search the vehicle, and the Worsleys consented, believing they had broken no laws. They were apparently unaware that cannabis is still illegal in Alabama even if purchased legally in another state. The small stash was found, along with a scale, grinder, rolling papers and a pipe. 

The officer also found some pain pills, for which Eboni had a prescription. But the pills weren’t in the original bottle, which was also deemed a crime. Some unopened bottles of alcohol were also found — a violation, as Pickens is a dry county. Both Sean and Eboni were arrested.

Sean was charged with marijuana possession—and it was bumped up to a felony because (despite the small quantity) it was deemed for “other than personal use” on the basis of the scale. Eboni was charged on the pill and liquor violations.

After the Worsleys were released on bond, they had to pay an additional $400 to get their car out of impound—and then had to have it professionally cleaned, because the venison they were bringing for Sean’s family in North Carolina went bad.

Back in Arizona, the couple fell on hard times. Sean lost his VA benefits after failing to appear for a court date back in Pickens County. Then, about a year after the bust, the Pickens County judge suddenly revoked bonds in all the cases he was hearing. Sean and Eboni had to borrow money to rush back to Alabama, under pain of not getting the bond refunded—and being charged with failing to appear in court.

Sean was able to avoid prison time in a plea agreement that included a four-figure fine and five years of probation, as well as drug treatment. The charges against Eboni were dropped. 

Sean’s VA benefits were restored in August 2019, but in order to save money, he had failed to pay the $250 renewal fee for his Arizona medical marijuana card. In a traffic stop in Arizona this year, he was arrested for possession of cannabis without a valid medical marijuana card. Now he was determined to be in violation of probation, and Pickens County demanded that he be extradited back to Alabama.

On April 28, the Pickens County judge sentenced Sean Worsley to five years in prison. He would already be serving that time if not for the fact that new sentences are temporarily on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On July 16, a 13th Alabama inmate died after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, according to Alabama Political Report.

Alabama’s prisons, in addition to being chronically overcrowded, are plagued by violence.

But Sean is not free. He’s being held at the Pickens County jail until he can start formally serving his sentence. And he is not being allowed release while the sentence is on appeal.

“I feel like I’m being thrown away by a country I went and served for,” Sean wrote in a letter to Alabama Appleseed. “I feel like I lost parts of me in Iraq, parts of my spirit and soul that I can’t ever get back.” 

A campaign for clemency for Worsley has been launched by the Last Prisoner Project. The family also has a GoFundMe page to raise money for his legal fight.

Medical Marijuana on Hold  

While COVID-19 is holding up the start of Sean Worsley’s prison term, the health crisis also defeated an effort to finally pass a medical marijuana law in Alabama this year. 

On March 13, the Alabama Senate approved SB 165—known as the Compassion Act—by a vote of 22-11. The Compassion Act, sponsored by Republican, Sen. Tim Melson, would allow doctors to recommend cannabis and establish a system of licensed dispensaries. It was expected to pass in the House. 

But just days after the bill passed in the Senate, Alabama’s legislative session was cut short by the health emergency. It never went to a House vote. This means it is effectively dead for this year, The Hill reports.

A similar bill made it through the Senate last year, but died in the House, WBHM public radio noted.

States the Marijuana Policy Project: “Alabama’s lack of medical marijuana protections is becoming more and more of an outlier. Thirty-three states, including Florida, Louisiana, and Arkansas, allow medical cannabis, and Mississippi voters will get to decide the issue directly in November. Polling shows 75% of Alabama voters support medical cannabis. But because Alabama doesn’t have a citizen initiative process, the only way to bring a compassionate law to the state is for state lawmakers to pass a bill.” 

Last year, Alabama’s Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a decriminalization bill that would have dropped the penalty for possession of an ounce or less to a fine of up to $250. But the House version died in committee, and the full Senate did not vote on the bill. This year, Sen. Bobby Singleton introduced a similar decriminalization bill, but it did not even clear committee before the legislature’s early adjournment.

Alabama continues to have some of the harshest cannabis laws in the United States.

TELL US, should all states recognize medical marijuana?



  1. YearofAction

    August 4, 2020 at 9:19 pm

    Shame on the way that this veteran has been treated by the legal system. He is yet another participant in the real-world, no-win Kobayashi Maru test that contravenes the Constitution.

    Article I.

    Shame on all Congresses since 1937 for persistently malforming the three federal definitions of marijuana with the features of racism, duplicity, and circumlocution, neither of which are necessary or proper. Those features allowed the meaning of the definitions to be literally misconstrued.

    Article II.

    Shame on all Presidents and Attorneys General since 1937 for enforcing the consistently misconstrued meaning of the malformed definitions rather than their appropriately construed meaning.

    Article III.

    Shame on the Supreme Court for wrongly proclaiming in Gonzales v. Raich that the malformed definition of marijuana at that time was “necessary and proper”, by acquiescing to its misconstrued meaning without examining its malformed structure.

    Article IV.

    Shame on the States that acquiesced to the malformed federal definitions of marijuana by creating their own marijuana laws based on the consistently misconstrued meanings.

    Defeating the real-world, no-win Kobayashi Maru test.

    We the People can help Mr. Worsley, and many other people, by telling our members of Congress how to reconstruct the current malformed federal definition of marijuana to reveal its appropriately construed meaning.

    Congress must reconstruct the definition to make it conclusively uphold the Constitution because it continues to violate the Necessary and Proper Clause with racism, duplicity, and circumlocution.

    Congress must reconstruct the definition to use the English term “marijuana” rather than the Mexican term “marihuana”.

    Congress must reconstruct the definition to unambiguously describe how marijuana is actually derived from cannabis plants.

    Congress must reconstruct the definition to create a perimeter of specific Federal cannabis-use prohibitions that are in accordance with the original intent and common sense of the 2nd, 9th, 10th, and 14th Amendments. Those legitimate prohibitions will carefully deschedule cannabis plants for citizens, and continue to control the undesired proliferation of marijuana itself, even if it is separately removed from Schedule 1 by acknowledging its adulterated medical value.

    We can tell the candidates for Congress to reconstruct the definition like this:

    (16) The term “marijuana” means all parts of the smoke produced by the combustion of the plant Cannabis sativa L., which is, as are the viable seeds of such plant, prohibited to be grown by or sold by any publicly traded corporation or subsidiary company, and such smoke is prohibited to be inhaled by any child or by any person bearing any firearm, as is their intake of any part or any product of such plant containing more than 0.3% THC by weight unless prescribed to such child by an authorized medical practitioner.
    (92 words)

    See the racism, duplicity, and circumlocution in the current malformed federal definition of Schedule 1 marijuana. These are the rules of the real-world, no-win Kobayashi Maru test:

    Sec 802.
    (16)(A) Subject to subparagraph (B), the term “marihuana” means all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin.
    (B) The term “marihuana” does not include (i) hemp, as defined in section 1639o of title 7; or (ii) the mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom), fiber, oil, or cake, or the sterilized seed of such plant which is incapable of germination.
    (122 words)

    “I reprogrammed the simulation so it was possible to rescue the ship” – James T. Kirk

  2. Jon

    July 30, 2020 at 2:17 pm

    It is situations like this that got me to join The National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

    I did things “right” or so I thought. However as I read his story I realize that even though I may have “degrees on my wall”, and a comfortable income, I am also disabled veteran, I also have a medical card issued by my state, I am still black in America and what happened to him could on any given day, happen to me.

    US Army Veteran 1974-1985

  3. jim heffner

    July 24, 2020 at 6:04 am

    Shame on all the unfeeling bureaucrats who allow this to happen. They need to grasp that the letter of the law and justice are not always compatible. Human Rights trump legality. Why are Vets being arrested and in some cases deported to satisfy empathyless legalists? Our standing between others and danger used to have meaning and merit respect.
    The next time you go to thank a Veteran for our service how about helping to ensure the rights we fought for and let us use and grow our own medicine legally.
    What would happen if the ‘Mahihuana Tax Act of 1937’ was submitted in Congress today?
    It wouldn’t reach Committee.
    I’ve been ‘California Sober’ (no alcohol or hard drugs) since the 7th of January 1976 with Cannabis helping me through withdrawal, maintaining abstinence, easing my ‘Dark Nights of the Soul’, and the effects of Agent Orange exposure.

    “The future is here now it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” William Gibson

  4. Leif

    July 23, 2020 at 10:18 pm

    The behavior of government(Judicial branch for example) in matters relating to even the most ideal citizens Is a disgrace to the founding people “Fathers”. We the people have given, signed away and turned a blind eye for so many years. First the treatment and propagation of slavery in those with African origins as well as Asian, Italian , women of any ethnicity; this will not end with peaceful protest, riots or simple legislation. We the people must remember the past and use it to work together as citizens, we do not go to them and demand change. We use our combined force to vote for friends, neighbors and family. Not under some fares political party but as a Republic, for the People, by the People. This man committed no crime against his fellow citizen, in fact he went above and beyond as a citizen, shown by his life. Do not argue this upon ignorance or hate, frankly I gave no care for most opinions on such matters. Humans, American citizens and world citizens must stop fighting amongst ourselves or we will live to regret these times. I yearn for a better world and try my damndest to live the change I wish to see, every damn day to any and all. I ask everyone to look within for the love and use it as a wand of magic, sword of destiny or shield of glass. Do not judge by sins but understand, relate and help. You probably ask, what about those that use this heart to manipulate, harm and steal. Let them feel the eyes of everyone around them, if that does not humiliate their Essenes/soul then art of war rules on them. Let the brother, mother, father, sister of the aggrieved give suggestions upon their punishment and let us the People’s Republic do our duty and help them be sure then Proceed. Prison is in memory of mid-evil torture gone money making burnt marshmallow, a waste in every regard. I feel for this person as though he were my kin and these acts against him are preposterous. Aloha to you all, even the blind fools who will now focus on some obscure point and attempt to share hate. If that does not work go force a dance with Pele and save your loved ones the trouble.

  5. Frank DeLano

    July 23, 2020 at 4:35 pm

    This veteran having to go through the ridiculous legal system and judicially sentenced 5 years is completely ludicrous as is the legal system that allows this kind of behavior by cops etc.

    Somebody please come to this man’s defence and see to it he is exonerated!

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