How "free" is Alabama? The answer may surprise you

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - From bans on trans fats to workers' compensation regulations, a study by the Mercatus Center of George Mason University is ranking all 50 states based on public policies.

Those policies affect economic, social and personal individual freedoms.

The study provides analysis on the overall measures of freedom within each state by comparing and contrasting each state's policies. The study goes so far as to compare improvements of fiscal policies and asset-forfeiture in each state.

The rankings are an update on the first study, done in 2009.

So, where does Alabama rank in regards to how "free" its citizens are? According to the study, not as badly as it could be. Alabama, overall, is considered the 19th freest state in the nation.

The number gets better when looking at economic freedom, which places "The Heart of Dixie" in 9th place. Personal freedoms don't fare quite so well, however. Alabama falls to the lower end of the spectrum at number 38.

Let's look at the study's healthy-related rankings. Alabama beats New York, which came in dead last, even though the Empire State has strict bans on cigarette taxes, public smoking and gun control. Where Alabama falls short on the freedom rank is in the area of alcohol sale and distribution. Alabama, according to the study, actually has the country's highest spirit tax!

Looking at the legal system, Alabama is considered one the worst in country. You'll find that a single marijuana sale conviction can end with the maximum sentence of life in prison.

So now that Mercatus has crunched the numbers, who do they recommend?

For Alabama specifically, the study recommends several policy changes. The state is urged to improve its liability system by electing judges rather than appointing them.

The minimums for marijuana offenses, which currently stands at three years in prison, should be eliminated, and auto and road regulations should become a focus.

The study recommends Alabama actually repeal its motorcycle and bicycle helmet law and change the seatbelt violation law from a primary offense to a secondary offense.

Out of curiosity, you're wondering, what does it take to make a state the "freest state in the nation"?

The study says an above-average standard deviation of taxes and spending and fiscal decentralization coupled with the nation's most lenient gun laws, zero retail taxes on alcohol, and a no seatbelt law for adults are the top reasons for moving into the number 1 spot.

How do you get there? You'll have to move New Hampshire. 

If less freedom is what you're looking for...say Hello New York!

Check out the list on the right side of this story (non-mobile version) to see where other states rank.

You can also view more information surrounding this study online.

Copyright 2011 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.