Bill To Reduce Alabama Penalty For Marijuana Possession Hits Snag

Photo Credit: Julie Bennett

A move to reduce the penalty for possession of marijuana met resistance today in the Alabama Legislature.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 7-5 against a bill by Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, who has tried for years to lessen the penalty.

Todd’s bill provides that possession of an an ounce or less would be punishable only by a fine of up to $250. The offense would be a violation, which is less than a misdemeanor. That would apply to both the first and second offense.

Third and subsequent offenses would still be a violation, punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he thought the bill went too far in that possession would be only a violation even after repeat offenses.

“I think we’re probably headed toward either some type of either decriminalization or lesser emphasis being placed on marijuana,” Hill said. “But it’s illegal. And to say that no matter how many times you use it, how many times it’s personal use, it never rises to the level of a misdemeanor, I just think that’s a mistake.”

Under current law, possession for personal use is a misdemeanor on the first offense and a low-level felony on the second offense.

A bill nearly identical to Todd’s did advance today in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved it on 6-4 vote. That bill, by Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, moves to the Senate floor. But it would have to also pass the House to become law.

“Nobody in here wants to hang felonies or drug conviction misdemeanors on a bunch of college kids,” Brewbaker said. “We’re arresting more people for marijuana than opioids.”

Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, told Brewbaker he would probably filibuster against the bill if it came to the Senate floor. Williams said he has worked as a counselor for people with addictions and said many started out on marijuana.

Brewbaker said he believed alcohol was more likely to lead to the use of harder drugs than marijuana.

Voting against Todd’s bill in the House Judiciary Committee were Hill, and Reps. Paul Beckman, R-Prattville; Dickie Drake, R-Leeds; Allen Farley, R-McCalla; David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook; Mike Holmes, R-Wetumpka and Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley.

Voting for Todd’s bill were Reps. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia; Mike Ball, R-Madison; Prince Chestnut, D-Selma; Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham and Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa.

Voting for Brewbaker’s bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee were Sens. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham; Vivian Figures, D-Mobile; Hank Sanders, D-Selma; Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro; Tom Whatley, R-Auburn and Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, the committee chairman.

Voting against Brewbaker’s bill were Sens. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville; Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham; Larry Stutts, R-Sheffield and Williams.