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Alabama Senate Committee Approves Cannabis Decriminalization Bill |

A bill that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and exonerate past convictions related to cannabis was approved by the Alabama Senate Committee. Senate Bill 160 was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday with a 5-4 vote.

Bobby Singleton (Democratic Senate Minority Leader) proposed legislation to make cannabis possession decriminalized and end the threat of jail time. Possession of less than 2 ounces would result in a penalty of $250. 

The first offense of possessing over two ounces would result in a misdemeanor, punishable with a maximum $250 fine. An additional conviction could result in a misdemeanor with a maximum $500 fine. While a third guilty plea would lead to a felony that can be punished by up to $750. It does not apply to drug trafficking charges or possession exceeding two ounces.

The current Alabama law defines possession of marijuana for personal purposes as a misdemeanor. This can result in a $6,000 fine and upto a year imprisonment. The offense of possessing cannabis other than for personal use can lead to a 10 year sentence in prison, as well as a maximum fine of $15,000.

Attorney John Brinkley told local media that incarcerating people for low-level cannabis offenses is putting pressure on Alabama’s local jails, which spend about $60 a day to keep each inmate behind bars. Minor cannabis possession offenses would not be subject to probation or jail.

“I think that we’re already moving in the right direction for what Singleton is interested in doing here,” Brinkley said. “And I don’t think that it’s something that’s going to put a lot of people at risk because, quite frankly, people have been using marijuana left and right and have been for generations.”

Bill would expunge minor marijuana convictions

Singleton’s bill would also provide for the expungement of convictions for low-level cannabis possession offenses. The courts would allow anyone convicted for possessing less that two ounces cannabis to file a petition for expungement. The petitioner would have to not be convicted for any additional felonies, misdemeanors or violations in the five preceding years.

Marty Schelper, the founder of the cannabis policy reform group Alabama Cannabis Coalition, said the legislation to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis would keep minor offenders from entering the state’s criminal justice system.

“It would lower the populations of our prisons,” she explained. “You know lives and families would not be destroyed for something that’s legal in 33 other states.”

“Somebody could get caught with just a little bit of cannabis in a small baggy, go to jail; they get caught up in the justice system,”  Schelper added.

However, Madison County District Attorney Tim Gann doesn’t believe that marijuana policy reform can have long-term results in decreasing overall crime.

“Legalizing marijuana would take pressure off the court system on the front end,” Gann said. “But on the back end, the residual effects of another addictive substance being legalized will probably outweigh the initial downturn in cases.”

Schelper disagrees, and said, “I don’t think legalization of recreational cannabis use is going to cause more people to use cannabis. People are already using cannabis.”

A previous version of Singleton’s bill was also passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee last year but failed to gain the approval of the full chamber. With the panel’s approval again this year, SB 160 now awaits action from the full Alabama Senate.