“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. No longer will these residents be bound to their past. They deserve a chance to be part of our work force, to provide for their families and to achieve success on their own. That new life starts rights here, today, with forgiveness and redemption.”
Unironically, on April 20 (4/20), 2021, City of Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin implemented his “Pardons for Progress” Initiative, a wide-sweeping opportunity for any person convicted of a possession of marijuana misdemeanor in the City of Birmingham municipal court between the years 1990 and 2020. So long as the individual does not have any other marijuana possession convictions, has not completed certain court-ordered requirements to close their case, and their case is indeed closed, that individual is eligible for a pardon by the mayor and no application for a pardon is required.
A pardon sets aside a conviction; this action being taken by Mayor Woodfin frees those affected individuals from their prior conviction without any conditions. This initiative is groundbreaking, and Mayor Woodfin stands alone in the state of Alabama with his initiative. “Pardons for Progress” was instituted nearly one year after the City of Birmingham decriminalized marijuana, only issuing citations to those caught with small amounts of marijuana as opposed to incarceration for the same.
While marijuana is still very much illegal in the state of Alabama, some trends towards leniency are starting to show. In 2021, the Alabama legislature opened the door to the medical marijuana industry growing in the state, with the passage of a bill authorizing the production of medical cannabis by licensed growers, and the distribution of medical marijuana to individuals diagnosed with certain conditions, including, but not limited to, autism spectrum disorder, cancer or HIV/AIDS-related cachexia (weight or muscle loss), epilepsy, PTSD, and sickle cell. Legislation was proposed this past legislative session to decriminalize marijuana across the state, but such legislation did not make it to the governor’s desk.
Just a month ago, the city of Tuscaloosa followed Birmingham’s lead, decriminalizing marijuana, and making possession of trace amounts punishable by fine as opposed to incarceration. Mayor Walt Maddox expressed that the city is looking to put harsher criminals behind bars, not people with small amounts of marijuana.
First Birmingham, then Tuscaloosa—who’s next? It is important to understand that, just because your Mayor is not taking Birmingham’s stance with pardons for misdemeanor marijuana possessions, they still have the authority to issue such a pardon. Any mayor in the state of Alabama, pursuant to Section 12-14-15 of the Code of Alabama, 1975, can issue a pardon for a conviction in municipal court.
I recently represented a man with a 10-year-old municipal conviction, which lost him many job opportunities over the years. I specially appealed to the Mayor and their lawyer for a pardon and convinced them to grant a pardon to my client.
Phil Fikes, Associate Attorney