Written by Rita Thompson
Imagine this: one minute, you’re stopping for gas, turning up the radio, minding your own business.
In the blink of an eye, you’re on your way to jail and your life has changed forever.
This was reality for Sean Worsely, a disabled veteran from Arizona who was arrested and charged with five years in prison for driving through Alabama with medical cannabis in his backseat.
Wait, What Happened?
Sean Worsley is a Purple Heart Veteran suffering from a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following his time fighting in the Iraq War.
For years, Sean has been legally using medical cannabis to ease symptoms such as nightmares, severe back pain, and anxiety.
After stopping at a gas station in Alabama in 2016, however, where cannabis remains illegal, Sean and his wife Eboni’s lives were changed forever when a police officer approached them for listening to music “too loudly.”
Deeming their music a violation of the Gordo noise ordinance, the officer proceeded to search the couple’s vehicle and find Sean’s medical cannabis.
Sean was unaware that he had been breaking the law by passing through Alabama with his medication.
“I explained to him that Alabama did not have medical marijuana. I then place the suspect in handcuffs,” reads the police report.
Having also found Sean’s wife Eboni’s prescription pills out of their original bottle, the couple faced felony charges and spent the following six days in jail.
But it Doesn’t end There
After being released on bond, the Worlseys returned to Arizona where it became impossible to maintain housing and stability with their now-tainted records. As a result, the couple was forced to move to Nevada and lease a house.
It Still Doesn’t end There
One year into their unprecedented uprooting, the Worsley’s received a call that their bail bonds were being revoked and thus, they must return to court in Alabama.
That’s when Sean was coerced into signing a plea agreement.
As reported by Alabama Political Reporter, Eboni explained to her prosecutors that Sean was disabled with serious cognitive issues and needed assistance in understanding the process and making an informed decision.
In fact, when Sean was 28, the U.S. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) determined that he was “totally and permanently disabled due solely to [his] service-connected disabilities,” and named his wife Eboni as his caretaker.
However, Eboni claims that the prosecutors then locked her in a separate room and told Sean if he didn’t sign the plea agreement, they would both face the same charges and remain incarcerated until December.
Acting in fear, Sean ultimately signed the plea, landing him 60 months of probation, drug treatment, and thousands of dollars in fines and legal fees.
Nope, Still not Over…
Following years of legal battles with the state of Alabama, Sean was denied continued treatment by the VA.
When his benefits were reinstated, he was battling homelessness and unable to pay the $250 renewal fee. Thus, he was arrested, again, this time for possession of cannabis without a medical card.
In April 2020, Sean was officially sentenced to 60 months in prison. He is currently in county jail waiting to be transported to prison in Alabama.
Since the arrest, Eboni has lost job offers, her clearance to work with sensitive information, and both her truck and home.
Facing health issues of her own, Eboni, is in the hospital for heart surgery, leaving behind Sean’s two children, ages 12 and 14.
“I feel like I’m being thrown away by a country I went and served for,” Sean wrote in a letter 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.”
What’s Wrong With This Picture
Being sent to prison for cannabis possession while others thrive off of the legal market is something that should have ended a long, long time ago.
According to American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), of the 8.2 million cannabis arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simple possession.
Further, despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks remain 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for cannabis.
Not to mention, for Sean, like the more than 20% of veterans who report using cannabis to treat service-related injuries, the relief provided by the plant is simply unmatched by prescription pills.
In fact, VICE’s Krishna Andavolu has spoken with many veterans on his show Weediquitte in regards to how cannabis has helped them cope with the physical and mental aftermath of war.
“You’ll never be able to forget the things that you saw,” Ryan Corpse, a military veteran from Maine explained. “I think that the cannabis just puts that in a safe place, not beating at the back of your eyeballs and driving you crazy.”
Overall, all patients, especially veterans, deserve fair and legal access to well-being that cannabis provides.
However, until we see significant legal reform in regards to both possession and research, this will not be the last Sean Worsely.