Two Alabama bills to lower penalties for marijuana possession up for debate

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Two Alabama lawmakers are looking to move marijuana legislation in the state forward.

Montgomery-Republican state Sen. Dick Brewbaker and Birmingham-Democrat state Rep. Patricia Todd have both filed bills in the state legislature to be debated by House and Senate Judiciary Committees on Wednesday.

Under existing law in the state, any person who knowingly sells, distributes, or brings into the state more than 2.2 pounds of cannabis is considered a trafficker and can be sentenced to a minimum of three years imprisonment and a $25,000 fine. Brewbaker’s SB51, filed earlier in the year, would adjust the minimum amount needed to be convicted of trafficking to 10 pounds.

Brewbaker hopes his legislation will keep young people from being convicted of major felonies.

“No one is talking about legalizing possession of marijuana, but I haven’t talked to anybody who thinks hanging felonies on college kids is a great idea because that follows them around for the rest of their lives” he told AL.com.

Todd’s bill, HB272, seeks to change the amount needed in to be convicted of unlawful possession of marijuana, and the punishment’s inflicted upon those who break the law.

As the law stands today, anyone who possesses cannabis for personal use can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, resulting in a jail sentence of up to one year and up to $6,000 in fines. A second time offender could be charged with a Class D felony, and sentenced to up to five years in prison, with at least some of that time being served in a community corrections facility.

Todd’s bill would add a lower tier of punishments, and would require possession of two or more ounces of marijuana in order to be convicted.

The bill also changes sentencing for possession of one ounce or less to a violation, with fines that would not appear on a person’s criminal record. A first or second offense of unlawful possession of marijuana would be punishable by a fine not over $250 and a third offense would result in a violation with a fine of $500 or less.

The bill however, makes no provisions for edible derivatives of a cannabis plant.

“This is not as bad as alcohol, we don’t want people to use. But it costs the state a lot of money to enforce the possession law,” Todd told AL.com. 

Todd believes opposition to her bill has passed, and thinks law enforcement should not have to spend valuable time and resources chasing small amounts of marijuana, while we have an opioid crisis in the state.

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