In 2016, Veteran Sean Worsley was traveling from Mississippi to North Carolina to visit relatives with his wife, Eboni. Sean suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), depression, short-term memory loss, and severe back pain after his 14-month deployment in Iraq, where he cleared bombs from roadsides. He is 100% disabled through the military and requires a legal guardian to help him make informed decisions. He was legally prescribed medical marijuana to treat his symptoms in his home state of Arizona.
On their road trip, Sean and Eboni stopped for gas in Gordo, Alabama, a small town of less than 2,000 people. The Purple Heart recipient got out of the vehicle with music playing loudly, smiling at his wife and playing air guitar. Officer Carl Abramo heard the music and informed the Worsleys that the volume of the music violated the town’s noise ordinance. Sean and Eboni quickly turned the music down.
Officer Abramo then stated that he smelled marijuana and requested to search the vehicle. The Worsleys complied, and Sean let the officer know that he had marijuana in the car. He presented his valid medical marijuana card, complying with all of the officer’s requests.
But even a legal prescription for marijuana is not accepted in Alabama. Recreational use of marijuana is legal in 11 states and the District of Columbia, and medicinal use is allowed in 33 jurisdictions, but the substance is entirely banned in Alabama.
In the back of the vehicle, Officer Abramo found a prescription bottle of marijuana, rolling papers, a pipe, a six-pack of beer, a bottle of vodka and some pain pills, all of which he determined were reasons to arrest the couple. (It is illegal to possess most types of alcohol in Pickens County, which at the time was one of Alabama’s 23 partially dry counties.)
Officer Abramo decided that the Worsleys may be intending to distribute marijuana, and charged them with felonies. They spent six days in jail but were released on bond.
The Worsleys thought that was the end of the ordeal, but they were wrong. Nearly a year later, they were called back to Alabama and separated for questioning, despite Sean’s disability status and requirement of a legal guardian.
Without his wife’s help or input, Sean signed a plea agreement of 60 months of probation, drug treatment and thousands of dollars in fines.
In February 2019, Sean unknowingly missed a court date. The state of Alabama issued a fugitive warrant for his arrest.
Sean was already struggling with legal fees that lead to bouts of homelessness for him and Eboni. He was unable to afford the $250 renewal fee for his medical marijuana card. When he was arrested at a traffic stop in Arizona in August 2019, Alabama extradited him, adding the expense to his outstanding court costs.
In April of 2020, Sean was sentenced to five years in prison by a Pickens County judge. He is currently in Pickens County Jail, waiting for a spot to open up on Alabama’s notoriously violent 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, a criminal justice organization. “I feel like I lost parts of me in Iraq, parts of my spirit and soul that I can’t ever get back.”
Alabama District Attorney Andy Hamlin, the prosecutor in charge of Sean’s case, defended the decision to send Worsley to jail, based on prior marijuana possession convictions as reasons to incarcerate the veteran.
Worsley has never been convicted of a violent crime or one against an individual victim.
Hamlin also alleged that Worlsey would not “conform” to the court-mandated drug treatment. Worsley sought drug treatment through the VA in Arizona in 2018, and was denied because he had a medical marijuana card.
The VA’s assessment said that Worlsey “has legal documentation to support his use and therefore does not meet criteria for a substance use disorder or meet the need for substance abuse treatment.”
While Alabama refuses to accept medical marijuana cards from other states, they recognize and honor all out of state concealed carry permits.
Now, Sean has regressed with this PTSD, and is having increasing trouble communicating, sleeping and degenerating physical health.
This country has failed Sean Worsley. A decorated Veteran, permanently disabled due to his service to America, faces five years in prison after years of joblessness, homelessness, and increasing debt due to medical marijuana. A GoFundMe for Sean has raised over $100,000 to combat his legal fees.
John Carroll, a professor of law at the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Alabama, said a solution to Worsley’s case could be a Veteran’s Treatment court, but it may be too late to change the sentencing in Worsley’s case.
An online petition is calling for President Trump to pardon Sean Worsley.