How Seven Little Men Killed Alabama Pot Bill – And One Man’s Redemption

Photo Credit: Randall Benton

Seven oldish white guys this week killed a bill that would have eased penalties for small-time marijuana possession in Alabama.

By themselves.

Rep. Jim Hill, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee was one. He was joined by Republicans Dickie Drake, Allen Farley, David Faulkner, Mike Holmes and Tim Wadsworth.

They snuffed the thing out like a joint at a Tuscaloosa frat party where the cops were knocking on the door. Easy Peasy.

But nobody killed it more than Rep. Paul Beckman, the Republican from Prattville. He kissed it with death by demanding the bill get a voice vote. It ensured, in that gutless crowd in this election year, it would never make its way out of the committee for a full debate.

So they killed it. And who can blame them?

Lawmakers were busy, trying to make sure Alabama’s elementary teachers pack heat. They were busy, doing next to nothing to ease Alabama prison overcrowding.

They had God to invoke. And moralistic pandering to perform. Forget pot. Just be glad they didn’t ban dancing.

Keep in mind we’re not talking about legalization, but a bill that would punish those who have less than an ounce of pot with fines instead of jail time. It made sense in a state known for mass producing criminals and stockpiling them in overcrowded prisons that it can’t pay for and can’t keep safe.

Rep. Patricia Todd, a Democrat from Birmingham who is not seeking another term, brought it to the House. And Dick Brewbaker, a Republican from Montgomery who is also not seeking re-election, brought it to the Senate, which passed out of committee by a 6-4 vote Wednesday.

Brewbaker argued that too many potential workers are driven from jobs because they are stuck, as young people, with criminal records that follow them too long.

“Nobody in here wants to hang felonies or drug conviction misdemeanors on a bunch of college kids,” he said. “We’re arresting more people for marijuana than opioids.”

But it didn’t make any difference.

In the end the politics of piety won in a committee. Keep putting people away, because it’s the Alabama way.

Brewbaker insists there’s bipartisan support for such a bill, and “It’s going to happen, just a matter of when.”

Just not now.

It’s no surprise that the bill died, I guess. What was unusual was how Brewbaker broke news of its death.

He tweeted it Wednesday. Like this:

“Marijuana reform is probably dead. House bill failed in House judiciary. All that work, up in smoke.”

A little humor. A little melancholy.

What came after, though, was rare. Democrats and Republicans tweeted appreciation for Brewbaker. Not because of dope. Not because they agree with him all the time, but because they saw in him a thing that’s rare in Montgomery: Reason.

As one tweeter wrote: “This is going to sound crazy coming from a registered Democrat, who doesn’t always agree with you…but we need you to stay in the legislature…we have to pass common sense laws to move this state towards progress.”

Brewbaker replied with one of the most honest assessments I’ve seen from a sitting politician.

“I appreciate that, but being in the legislature is bad for people (at least me) spiritually. No one can swim around in that sea of flattery forever and not have it affect them. It’s time for me to go. Redemption isn’t found in politics.”

Maybe it’s easy to say those things when you no longer need a vote. But it is truth seldom told by politicians, about politics.

I don’t think Brewbaker has to worry so much about redemption. In many ways, he has found it.