Bill proposed to lower punishment for marijuana

Published 11:01 pm Thursday, February 22, 2018

By Adam Dodson | The Selma Times-Journal

A bill that would change penalization of small marijuana possession caught headway in the Alabama Legislature, but has ultimately hit a snag due to heavy drawback from the Alabama House Judiciary Committee.

The bill, proposed by Senator Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery) and Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham), called for the decrease of penalties for those possessing marijuana in small amounts from mandatory jail time to violations.

For this case, a “small” amount is anything considered an ounce (28 grams) or less. Instead of being a misdemeanor, the bill would change the first and second small possession offenses to simple violations, which is less punitive.

The maximum fine for the first two offenses would be $250. After the third offense, it would be a violation of up to $500.

The bill saw early success, with the Senate Judiciary Committee voting its approval by a 6-4 vote. However, resistance was met in the House Judiciary Committee, which voted against the legislation 7-5.

The bill had the support of local Senator Hank Sanders, who has publicly called for the passing of this bill, commending the congresswoman and senator for their work.

Those charged with marijuana possession in Alabama are still subject to hefty fines and life-altering penalties as a result of the impending misdemeanor or felony, which Sanders believes is the result of an unfair criminal justice and political system. This all happens while law enforcement continues to fail to halt usage.

“Marijuana use is widespread and the penalties are not stopping people from smoking. The criminal justice system is causing a whole lot of people to have a criminal record when many others are using and not getting caught. It is truly unfair,” Sanders said. “The truth is, it depends on where you live and if you get caught. The justice system is allowing this to follow them around the rest of their lives.”

Reasons for the failure of the bill include fear of a bad precedent with other similar cases.

According to Al.com, Rep. Jim Hill (R-Moody), who serves as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, emphasized that marijuana is still illegal in Alabama, and that lessening the penalty to a few violations with never having the possibility of receiving a misdemeanor is a “mistake.”

As the law currently stands, a second-time offense for possession of marijuana for personal use could result in a low-level felony.

After the imminent rejection of the bill, Senator Brewbaker has grim hopes for the legislation, saying on Twitter: “all that work, up in smoke.”