A bill to lessen the penalties for marijuana possession in Alabama took its first step toward passing the Legislature today.
Besides reducing the penalties, the legislation would allow offenders to have marijuana convictions expunged after five years if they steer clear of another arrest.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, by an 11-0 vote. That puts it in line for consideration by the Senate.
Sen. Malika Sanders-Fortier gave several reasons for supporting the bill, noting that marijuana is used for medical purposes in some states and saying that it’s probably less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes. Sanders-Fortier said she knows some professionals who use the drug but said they don’t tend to be the ones who get arrested.
“It’s the low-income people, people who are impoverished,” Sanders-Fortier said. “And they pay a different kind of penalty, and I think that’s unfair. So, to me it’s a matter of mercy.”
Sanders-Fortier said the bill would still hold offenders accountable by imposing fines.
Committee Chairman Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said college students tend to run afoul of the marijuana possession law and get saddled with long-term consequences.
“You’re getting so many college kids, the 18-, 19-year-old, 20-year-old, who yeah, they had something they probably shouldn’t have,” Ward said. “But the rest of their life, this is on their record and they can’t get it off their record.”
Singleton’s bill would change the definitions of first-degree and second-degree marijuana possession and the penalties for both:
Under current law, a person commits the crime of first-degree possession if they have marijuana for reasons other than personal use or if they get caught with marijuana and have a previous conviction for personal use. First-degree possession is a felony.
Singleton’s bill would change the definition to say that a person commits first-degree possession when they have two ounces or more.
First-degree possession would not be a felony until the third conviction. A first conviction would be a misdemeanor punishable only by a fine up to $250. A second conviction would be a misdemeanor punishable only by a fine up to $500. A third and subsequent convictions would be a Class D felony, the lowest level of felony, punishable only by a fine not to exceed $750.
Under current law, a person commits the crime of second-degree possession if they have marijuana for personal use only. Second-degree possession is a Class A misdemeanor, the most serious level of misdemeanor.
Under Singleton’s bill, second-degree marijuana possession would apply to amounts less than two ounces. Second-degree possession would be considered a violation, which is less serious than a misdemeanor, and would be punishable only by a fine of up to $250.
Offenders convicted of either first- or second-degree possession could have that expunged from their record after five years without another arrest except for minor traffic violations.
Efforts to reduce the penalty for marijuana possession stalled in the Legislature last year.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill by Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, to reduce the penalties for marijuana possession. But a similar bill, by Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, failed to win approval in the House Judiciary Committee. Todd tried for years to reduce penalties for marijuana.
Published by AL.com