New Birmingham Initiative Pardons Low-Level Marijuana Convictions

(L-R) State Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, City Councilwoman Crystal Smitherman, Mayor Randall Woodfin, City Councilman John Hilliard and Kerri Pruitt of the Dannon Project. (Source: Whitney Sides, WBHM)

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin announced a new initiative Monday to pardon those who have been convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession.

City and state leaders joined Woodfin in a press conference to unveil the plan, along with advocates for criminal justice reform.

The mayor said his plan could expunge the marijuana convictions of more than 6,000 people. Individuals must apply for pardon through the city’s website.

A five-person advisory council made up of lawyers, faith leaders, and former judges will review those applications and make recommendations to the mayor.

Misdemeanor marijuana convictions can be a barrier to employment, Woodfin said. He said removing one charge can go a long way in improving someone’s job prospects. Those who are expected to benefit most from the “Pardons for Progress” initiative are one-time offenders who have previously faced barriers to employment when a possession charge appeared on employer background checks.

“This is another tool to provide second chances for those who have made some type of mistake that’s not necessarily an infringement on their character” Woodfin said. “They deserve that opportunity, because they deserve a job.”

Criminal justice reform advocates say the new initiative is an important step. Kerri Pruitt, co-founder of the Dannon Project, a local nonprofit that helps those convicted of non-violent offenses re-enter society, says she works with people every day whose one mistake has followed them for a lifetime.

Pruitt says this is the ultimate game-changer.

“This is like a Christmas present that’s going to last forever because it gives people a real opportunity” Pruitt says.

A pardon from the City of Birmingham does not change convictions in federal or state courts, or those in other municipalities.

And while the mayor says the new policy specifically deals with misdemeanor marijuana possession, he will also consider applications from those who have been convicted of drug paraphernalia misdemeanors.

Woodfin says he’s working with state lawmakers to expand the initiative, joining forces with Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, who advocated for similar reform in the state Senate.

Pardons for Progress takes effect immediately and applies retroactively for all those eligible.