Alabama media outlets are blaring out a warning (including a mug shot) from the state's Department of Corrections that Dyron Rashad Primus, 27, has escaped from a work release facility in Decatur and is on the loose.
Media reports note that he's serving 15 years for first-degree marijuana possession and just leave that detail to lay there for observant people to ask, "Fifteen years for marijuana possession?"
The reality is slightly more complicated, but the truth is still a significant indictment on how Alabama perpetuates the drug war. Primus was arrested back in 2014 after a police search of his home turned up a bunch of synthetic marijuana packages, which he likely intended to sell. So the conviction was not just for possession, and it wasn't just marijuana. Synthetic marijuana can be much more dangerous than the real thing, and it can be adulterated with any number of chemicals that can cause severe reactions.
But ultimately, we have our own drug war to blame for the spread of synthetic cannabis. Back in 2014, as panic about the dangers of synthetic marijuana began to grow, Reason's Jacob Sullum noted that the attempt to ban the marijuana plant is what led to the creation of these artificial counterparts. Even the Drug Enforcement Administration has acknowledged that the federal pot ban plays a role in this problem.
At any rate: Synthetic weed may be more dangerous than the plant, but a 15-year sentence is nevertheless absurd. Check out the text of Alabama's first-degree marijuana possession laws. Primus was clearly convicted of having the drugs for "other than personal use." But the state also has a two-strikes law for simple marijuana possession for personal use only. It's a Class D felony, mandating a sentence of no less than one year, and no more than five years, plus potentially up to $7,500 in fines. You don't have to be a dealer to spend years in jail just for pot possession in Alabama.
It would be utterly irresponsible for I or for Reason to suggest that you should assist Primus in his efforts to evade the law. So I will not recommend that. But if you do happen to think you see him, perhaps you could suddenly receive an important text on your phone that needs to be read very carefully.