Pubdate: Fri, 2 April 1999  
Source: Birmingham Post-Herald (AL)
Section: Your Views
Copyright: 1999 Birmingham Post Co.
Author: Mark Bodenhausen


Jadd Fawwal's suit against Alabama Crown Distributing for selling
Hempen Ale will simply be one in a long line of businesses threatened
by drug laws. Alabama's byzantine maze of legal codes enables Fawwal
(on behalf of the state) to prosecute them for felony trafficking in

As in other states, Alabama's penalties are more severe as the
quantity of a controlled substance goes up. But a 1995 change in the
state's drug laws makes you wonder if our Legislature has a firm grasp
on reality. Before the change, a trafficking bust that included
cannabis plants required them to be defoliated. After removing any
legal parts, like stems and seeds, charges were brought against the
individual on what was left. The law was reworded to include stems,
seeds and all products derived from them. Any quantity exceeding 2.2
pounds would be considered a felony.

The legistators loved it: more "controlled" substances, longer jail
times and a victory at the polls for being tough in "the war on drugs."

But with this small word change, thousands of items car parts,
birdseed, books, clothing, food  became a legal timebomb.

It wasn't long before the list of criminals included shopkeepers
selling products containing hemp. The now-infamous Bohemian Rhapsody
debacle should have taught legislators that tinkering with the legal
system can produce unexpected results. Although the charges were
dropped, the law was left unchanged. Perhaps our legislators had hoped
Bohemian was an isolated incident.

It comes as no suprise that large retailers are not included in this
suit. Corporate giants like Macy's, Bruno's or Wal-Mart that are
equally guilty of violating Alabama's hemp law could easily defend
themselves with dozens of lawyers and millions of dollars if the need

Fawwal's attack on Alabama Crown shows how vulnerable small businesses
can be, even if a product is legal.

By seeking reimbursement of his legal fees, Fawwal clearly is not
interested in correcting the problem.

Fawwal says that consumers are being misled by ads for Hempen Ale. He
claims the "packaging and representations made are designed to make
the consumer to believe that they are purchasing a controlled
substance." This is absurd.

I've seen more than a few kiddie vending machines selling hemp
products and yet have to meet a 10-year old that thinks that the
string bracelet he buys for a quarter is pot or any other controlled

I believe it is Fawwal and our state Legislature that are sending the
wrong message.

The abuses we must tolerate in the war continue to

What's next? Fines and a long jail term? Or do we simply take the
business away from the owners under civil asset forfeiture law? The
end of the drug war is coming, but its outcome is by no means certain.

Mark Bodenhausen, regional chair Alabama Libertarian Party 2330
Highland Ave.
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