26 years for minor pot sales
by Dana Larsen (24 Jan, 2003)On January 15, 2003, an Alabama teen was sentenced to 26 years in jail for small-time pot sales.
Alabama youth's sentence typical for petty drug offences.
Webster Alexander, 19, gets 26 years for selling pot
Webster Alexander, 19, received the jail time for a variety of charges stemming from selling ounces of pot to a narcotics officers who had infiltrated his school, posing as a student.
Loretta Nall, founder of the Alabama Marijuana Party, has been working to help Alexander since she heard of his sentence.
"The pot sales all date back to 2001," Nall told Cannabis Culture. "Since then Alexander had graduated from high school and is attending college. He plays football, he gets good grades, he's an all-American kid. And now his life is shattered."
Nall has spoken extensively with Alexander and his family, and she explained the circumstances surrounding his arrest and sentencing.
"The local Lawrence County Drug Task Force sent a narc into his school to find some pot dealers. They said the narc was a transfer student. On his first day there he was pestering students about where the parties were, and how he could score some marijuana."
Webster sold the narc pot on four occasions, not on school grounds, but from outside family's home. After the fourth sale, Webster was arrested.
"Webster told me that right after the fourth sale, they were sitting in his mom's car in the driveway, and 15 to 20 police cars came roaring in, surrounding the car and house. He said the police were wearing flak jackets and had their weapons drawn. He said he had guns pointed at him as he was ordered to lie down to be handcuffed."
Lawrence County Circuit Judge Philip Reich sentenced Alexander to 13 years on each distribution charge. Reich also sentenced Alexander to five years for possession of marijuana, and six months for possession of paraphernalia.
Because Webster had the misfortune to live within three miles of the school, and also near a housing project, he got even more time. The judge gave him five years for trafficking within three miles of a school and five more years for trafficking within three miles of a housing project.
Reich ordered Alexander to serve two of the distribution sentences consecutively. He will serve the other sentences at the same time, totalling 26 years in jail.
Nall has her theories as to why the sentencing was so extreme. "The narc was wearing a wire, and had Alexander on tape saying that he was smarter than the cops, that the dumb police would never catch him, and so on. It's a vendetta case. The cops and DA are pissed with him because he called them stupid. Plus they're just picking on poor people, like always."
However, there is still faint hope that Alexander might not have to serve over two decades behind bars. "He has a final sentencing hearing on March 10," explained Nall. "I'm told there is still a chance he can be given parole. Then he'd probably only serve a year in prison and have five or six years of parole. But it's the same judge who decides this, and the judge and DA have already shown that they are serious about locking this boy up."
Nall told Cannabis Culture that Webster's family was devastated. "His parents have seven children, two of them adopted. His father is recently unemployed. They're holding out hope still, that this judge will come to his senses, or that somebody, somewhere out there will help them."
"I want to help this kid," explained Nall, "but we're not sure what to do. He plead guilty and got this sentence as part of a plea bargain. His lawyer was referred by NORML. According to his lawyer, he had to work hard to get the sentence to under 30 years. If the sentence is over 30 years he has no chance of parole and has to serve all the time. By having a 26 year sentence there is still the chance for parole."
"I am going to buy full-page ads in the local newspaper, the Decatur Daily, using money donated by Marc Emery," said Nall passionately. "I want to shame the prosecutor and judge. I want to run them out of town. They are an embarassement to our state and they need to go!"
In an interview with Cannabis Culture, Canadian pot seed merchant Marc Emery explained why he wants to help out with this case. "I was absolutely shocked when I read about this sentence," said Emery. "I couldn't believe this was still going on! I can't think of anywhere else in the world that would punish someone like this for such small quantities of pot. Even in China you wouldn't get that long a sentence for small quantities like this!"
Emery explained that he hopes he can do something about the sentence. "I am hoping we can fund some kind of legal challenge, or find a way to draw attention to this ongoing travesty. We're going to do what we can to help out and save this kid from a lifetime in jail."
Alabama prison state
Sadly, these kinds of extreme sentences for minor drug offences are quite common in Alabama. In a joint letter to the Huntsville Times, printed on January 12, 2003, two drug war prisoners explained their lengthy sentences.
One prisoner, Timothy Coffman, said that in December 2002 he was sentenced to 15 years for possession of one gram of marijuana rolled into a joint. "My appointed attorney repeatedly told me if I didn't plead guilty I'd have a jury trial," wrote Coffman, "and if I lost at trial I could receive up to life in prison."
The other prisoner, David White, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1992 for possession of less than $5 worth of cocaine. "I served seven years in prison, paroled out and worked four years with no problems," wrote White, "until I failed to report to my parole officer one time. This cost me my parole."
These types of sentences challenge statements made by US 'Drug Czar' John Walters, who regularly tells the media that Americans are not being jailed for small-time possession of pot.
Typical of these was a March 2002 interview with the Christian Science Monitor. "It is not a matter of some kid caught with a baggie of marijuana at a traffic stop who got slammed into prison," said Walters. "That is a caricature that I think it is about time we stopped repeating because it is so blatantly not true."
- Alabama Marijuana Party: alabama.usmjparty.com
- Decatur Daily article about the Webster Alexander sentencing: www.mapinc.org/newscc/v03/n087/a09.html
- Letter from the two drug war prisoners in the Huntsville Times: www.mapinc.org/newscc/v03/n061/a08.html
- See Loretta Nall's interview with Webster Alexander here: