An effort is underway in Montgomery to reduce penalties for simple marijuana possession in Alabama.
The bills filed by Rep. Patricia Todd (D- Birmingham) and Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R- Pike Road) would apply to those found with one ounce of marijuana or less. The bill would reduce the penalty to a violation with a fine, just like a parking ticket. It would not add to one’s criminal record.
Both the House and Senate version of the bill is scheduled to appear in committees on Wednesday.
“We’re trying not to hang felonies on college kids, bottom line,” explained Brewmaker.
Right now in Alabama, simple possession of marijuana (one ounce or less) is a misdemeanor on first offense, and a felony the second time.
Brewbaker’s proposal would mean a $250 dollar fine the first time, then fines up to $500.
“This is what the public wants,” said Brewbaker. “They want personal use, very small amounts, no evidence of trafficking, they want it to be a fine.”
He has Senator Cam Ward’s support, who is chair of the prison reform task force.
“You have college students who are 18, 19 and 20 years old, they get caught with a simple gram of marijuana and even though they’re not going to trial or jail, for the rest of their life it’s on their criminal record,” said Ward. “If it’s a second offense, it’s a felon for the rest of their life. It ruins their life for an offense no one’s even prosecuting anyway.”
Ward says the bill would not reduce the prison population.
“You can go on Department of Corrections website, simple possession in state prisons is almost zero,” said Ward. “The only people in state prisons on possession of any kind of marijuana are those trafficking the truckloads of it.”
Ward knows the bill will face a lot of opposition, especially in an election year.
Rep. Gerald Allen (R- Tuscaloosa) is a definite no vote.
“It may encourage young people and young adults to try something that they shouldn’t try and may end up being hooked on something that would bring harm and danger to their life,” said Allen. ‘I think it’s just a bad piece.”
If the bill makes it through the Senate, it may face a more difficult time in the House. Speaker Mac McCutchen tells ABC 33/40 the odds in the House are “slim to none.”