A disabled veteran’s stop at a gas station in Alabama has caused his life to unravel in the most devastating way over medical marijuana possession. Now supporters are demanding justice via a Change.org petition and GoFundMe.
According to The Washington Post, Sean Worsley is an Iraq War veteran with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He was prescribed marijuana by a doctor in Arizona where he resided with his wife Eboni. He used the substance for years to soothe his back pains and to calm his nightmares.
On August 15, 2016, Sean and Eboni were driving through Alabama after visiting her family in Mississippi. The two were on their way to surprise Sean’s own relatives in North Carolina. The couple stopped at a gas station outside Tuscaloosa to refill their tank while Worsley played air guitar at the pump.
Around 11 p.m., Officer Carl Abramo heard loud music from a vehicle and “observed a Black male get out of the passenger side vehicle,” according to a police report obtained by Alabama Appleseed, a criminal justice organization that detailed the Worsleys’ case. “He was laughing and joking around and looking at the driver while doing all this.”
When Abramo explained to them that their music was in violation of the noise ordinance in Gordo, a town with a population of less than 2,000, the couple turned their music down. However, the officer didn’t end it here. He said that he smelled marijuana and this is when Worsley explained that he was a disabled veteran. He tried to show the cop his medical marijuana card from Arizona, however, the officer wouldn’t hear him, considering marijuana was still illegal even with a card, unbeknownst to Sean.
“I explained to him that Alabama did not have medical marijuana,” the police report said. “I then placed the suspect in hand cuffs.” Abramo also found a prescription bottle of marijuana, rolling papers, a pipe, a six-pack of beer, a bottle of vodka and some pain pills in the back of the vehicle. He listed all these things as reasons he arrested Sean and Eboni. It’s illegal to possess most kinds of alcohol in Pickens County.
Although first-time possession of marijuana is sometimes charged as a misdemeanor, it can be bumped to a felony charged if the arresting officer thinks the substance is for purposes “other than personal use.” This is what the Worsleys were charged with, causing them to spend six days in jail. After they were released on bond, you’d think their legal problems would be over.
However, almost a year later, the bail bondsman called the couple saying the Pickens County judge was revoking bonds on all his cases. He told the couple this meant they had to rush back to Alabama from Arizona or they would be charged with failing to appear in court.
The Worsleys left for Alabama where they were split up and taken to separate rooms for questions. Eboni tried to explain to authorities that because of her husband’s disabilities, he needed a legal guardian to help him make informed decisions.
“They said no, and they literally locked me in a room separate from him,” Eboni Worsley told the Alabama Appleseed. “They told him that if he didn’t sign the plea agreement that we would have to stay incarcerated until December and that they would charge me with the same charges as they charged him.”
It was this threat that caused Worsley to sign the plea agreement, which was 60 months (5 years) of probation, drug treatment and thousand of dollars in fines.
In February 2019, Sean missed a court date in Pickens County, however. The local probational program cut short his supervision, citing “failure to pay court-ordered moneys” and “failure to attend.” It wasn’t until months later that Sean learn from the Department of Veterans Affairs that Alabama had issued a fugitive warrant for Sean’s arrest.
Sean, who is now struggling with homelessness along with his wife, also failed to pay $250 a couple months later to renew his medical marijuana card. When he was arrested at a traffic stop in Arizona last August, according to the Alabama Political Reporter, cops found him in possession of marijuana without a valid medical card.
Pickens County demanded Sean be extradited back to Alabama and they even made him pay for it, which more than doubled the $3,800 that he already owed in court costs. In April, Sean was sentenced to five years in prison by the Pickens County judge. Worsley is appealing his sentence, however, he’s now back in Pickens County Jail awaiting a spot to open up in the Alabama prison system.
“I feel like I’m being thrown away by a country I went and served for,” Worsley wrote in a letter from the Pickens County Jail to Alabama Appleseed. “I feel like I lost parts of me in Iraq, parts of my spirit and soul that I can’t ever get back.” Worsley is a Purple Heart recipient who served five years in the military, including a 14-month deployment in Iraq.
To date, recreational use of marijuana is legal in 11 states and the District of Columbia while medicinal use is allowed in 33 jurisdictions. However, the substance is entirely banned in Alabama. In Arizona, marijuana has been legal for medical purposes since 2011. Along with soothing his physical pains and nightmares, Sean has used his legal prescription to relieve his short-term memory issues and depression, according to the Appleseed.
His wife Eboni started a GoFundMe to assist with Sean’s legal fees and the other expenses the couple incurred because of their legal troubles. As of Tuesday evening, the page has raised over $24,000 with a $50,000 goal.
“We are both humbled and speechless at the amount of support and solidarity we are receiving,” Eboni wrote in a update. “Thank you all for continuing to stand with us and support us during this terrible season. It won’t last always and with individuals like you guy’s standing with us, it’s that much more bearable. THANK YOU!!”
A petition has also been started on Change.org asking people to sign if they believe “marijuana should be legal or that black lives matter or that veterans should be treated with respect or if you have PTSD.” It’s gained over 4,000 signatures as of Tuesday evening.