HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The Southern Poverty Law Center and Alabama Appleseed released a new report on Thursday that said Alabama's marijuana policies cost taxpayers some $22 million each year. The researchers also said the arrests are creating a dangerous backlog at the Department of Forensic Sciences, which tests forensic evidence in violent crimes.
"There's a nine-month wait period for testing at DFS," Frank Knaack, Alabama Appleseed Executive Director, said. "So if somebody's arrested, if they can't make bond, they're sitting in jail for nine months while the state is trying to figure out if the substance they were arrested with is actually an illegal drug or something else.
The groups also report the arrests disproportionately impact African-Americans in the criminal justice system, despite both black and white people reportedly using marijuana at approximately the same rate.
"What we've found in Alabama in African-Americans, despite using at the same rate, are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana use," Knaack said. "In Huntsville, that number jumped to over 10 to 1."
But, Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard disputed claims of racial bias by law enforcement.
"I can tell you law enforcement officials on the street do not care what color you are, they do not care whether you're a man or a woman, if you're breaking the law, they're going to address it," Broussard said. "It'll be sent to my office, it'll be sent to my office in a manila folder and we deal with it."
Broussard said they will continuing prosecuting marijuana possession crimes as long as the drug is illegal.
"It's a societal measure that should be settled in the legislature," Broussard said. "If the majority of Alabamians think that marijuana should not be illegal, so be it. But it is illegal and we deal with it."
If you would like to read the entire study, visit www.splcenter.org.