A couple from Michigan discovered recently that Alabama’s marijuana laws are not like those to which they’ve become accustomed back home.

Erika and Todd Prock were traveling with their 18-month-old son from Hamilton, Mississippi, near the Alabama-Mississippi boarder, back to Hillsdale, Michigan. Along the way, they stopped at a restaurant in Moulton. That was where their drive would end, running afoul of Alabama’s marijuana laws, which are now out of step with those in the rest of the nation. Recreational marijuana use is legal in 19 states.

According to an account published by al.com, Moulton police responded to a reported disturbance at the restaurant, and when they arrived, they encountered Todd Prock smoking a cigarette by his car. “An officer smelled marijuana on his breath,” according to the published account, and Prock admitted he had marijuana in the trunk of his car.

There is more to this story, but certain elements highlight the punitive nature of Alabama’s drug laws. In short, officers arrested both Erika and Todd Prock and placed their son in foster care, where he has remained since March. The Procks have remained in Alabama, too, living in a tent and, they say, running out of money while they try to regain custody of their son.

Police also seized $2,500 in cash Erika Prock had, too much to be protected even under an asset forfeiture reform bill the Legislature passed this spring, which has a cap of $250.

“I don’t understand how the same situation in two different states can differ so drastically to the point where in one state your child is taken and put into foster care over marijuana and you’re charged with chemical endangerment,” Erika Prock said, “but in another state, they consider it legal and safe and you go home to your family that night and never have to worry about your child being taken.”

But as Lawrence County prosecutors note, that is how federalism works: Different states have different laws, and people are subject to the laws of the state they’re in, even if they’re just passing through.

“Although an officer may exercise discretion,” said Lawrence County District Attorney Errek Jett, whose office is handling the case, “there is no provision under the laws of Alabama to permit possession of marijuana if the individual is from a state where it is lawful.”

Weeks after their arrest, prosecutors hit the Procks with additional charges. Both have now been charged with felony chemical endangerment of a child, a charge that doesn’t even exist in most states.

Alabama lawmakers passed the chemical endangerment law ostensibly to protect children found near meth labs. In reality, in such cases, it’s just one charge added on top of other drug charges. In practice, however, the chemical endangerment charge is a legal bludgeon wielded against everyone from parents caught with marijuana in their homes to women who give birth to children with trace amounts of illegal drugs in their systems.

Defenders of these laws point to the supposed long-term effects a mother’s drug use can have on a fetus, but most of these fears are overstated and pale next to the effects of poverty, poor nutrition and lack of prenatal care. The myth of “crack babies” in the 1980s persists despite being refuted by numerous studies.

According to Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Alabama leads the nation in charging women for crimes related to their pregnancies. As The Associated Press reported, Paltrow pointed out “hundreds have been prosecuted for running afoul of the state’s ‘chemical endangerment of a child’ statute by exposing their embryo or fetus to controlled substances.”

Imagine this hypothetical: A pregnant woman lives in Alabama. She visits friends in another state, where recreational marijuana use is legal. She comes back to Alabama and gives birth to a child that has trace amounts of marijuana in its system. Under Alabama law, hospitals will report her, and prosecutors can charge her with a crime and place her child in state custody.

Alabama clearly must adjust its laws to keep up with the times.

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(2) comments

Sam Cat

I doubt legal recreational use does not include driving a vehicle 5 minutes after you fired one up. I believe that would be driving under the influence . . . with a 18 month old in your care.

Chuck Johns

Ummm, what about concealed weapon carry laws ?? A man from Alabama can legally have his personal firearm in the trunk of his vehicle, but if passing through certain states, he will be arrested for violating that states' firearm laws if stopped and searched. Bottom line is, there is no excuse for ignorance of the law. That goes for the states you may travel through as well as your own.

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