An Alabama Senate committee unanimously approved a bill on April 17, 2019, that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.
In an 11-0 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the legislation, which will now head to a full Senate vote. The same committee passed a similar bill in 2018 in a narrower 6-4 vote, though a similar proposal was defeated by a House panel.
The legislation would revise penalties for possession of varying amounts of cannabis.
People caught with 1 ounce, or 28.35 grams, or less would be punished by a $250 fine for the first two offenses and a $500 fine for subsequent offenses. Possession of more than 1 ounce but less than 2 ounces, or 28.35 to 56.7 grams, would be considered a Class A misdemeanor. And possession of more than 2 ounces, or 56.7 grams, would be a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
— ACLU of Alabama (@ACLUAlabama) April 17, 2019
A fiscal note states that the legislation could “decrease receipts” for the state government's general fund from fines, but could also “decrease the obligations of local jails, the State General Fund, the district attorneys, the Department of Corrections, community corrections programs, and the Board of Pardons and Paroles by an undetermined amount dependent upon the number of persons charged with and convicted of the offenses provided by this bill and the penalties imposed.”
“It's encouraging that even in one of the most conservative states in the country, lawmakers are recognizing that jailing marijuana consumers doesn't make sense,” Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Marijuana Moment.
“North Carolina and Mississippi enacted similar reforms back in the 1970s,” she said. “Even a brief jail stay can be traumatic — or even deadly — and can disrupt housing and employment, with devastating consequences.”
Democratic state Sen. Bobby Singleton introduced SB 98 in March 2019, arguing that the existing system of charging residents for marijuana possession is arbitrary. The severity of a possession charge currently isn't based on the amount of cannabis, but instead whether law enforcement determines that the marijuana was for personal or non-personal use.
“We can't continue to send people to prison for petty crimes that are definitely nonviolent,” Singleton told Huntsville CBS affiliate WHNT-TV in March 2019.
In April 2019, committees in Missouri, Hawaii, and Texas have each advanced marijuana decriminalization bills, and Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed decriminalization legislation into law.