When people think of weed-friendly states, Alabama is probably not one of the states that comes to mind. But now, a new bill could introduce some important changes to Alabama’s cannabis laws.
While the new bill will not legalize cannabis, it could go a long way toward reducing the penalties for those caught with weed. And many in the state see that as a positive step forward.
Alabama’s New Marijuana Bill
Yesterday, Alabama’s new marijuana bill cleared its first major hurdle. Specifically, it was approved by the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee. In fact, the bill didn’t just pass, it passed by a unanimous 11-0 vote.
Now that it’s cleared that Committee, the bill is now in line to move on to the Senate.
If the bill eventually passes into law, it will introduce a number of potentially important changes to Alabama’s cannabis laws.
For starters, it will revise how the state defines marijuana-related offenses. These revisions dramatically alter current laws.
For example, under current laws a person caught with cannabis for purposes other than personal use, or a person with a previous cannabis conviction who gets caught with weed, can be charged with first-degree possession.
This is currently classified as a felony charge, carrying relatively severe penalties.
But under the new bill, first-degree possession will only apply to a person caught with two ounces of weed or more.
And a first conviction would only be a misdemeanor carrying a fine of up to $250. From there, a second conviction would also be a misdemeanor with a $500 fine, and all convictions after that will become Class D felonies.
Similarly, the new bill will redefine second-degree possession. Currently, this category is for people caught with weed for personal use.
This charge is currently a Class A misdemeanor, which is the most serious level of misdemeanor.
But the new bill would change that. Second-degree possession would apply only to people caught with less than two ounces of pot. And it would be a minor violation, carrying a fine of up to $250.
Addressing Problems With Alabama’s Criminal System
On top of these changes, the new bill also calls for a potentially important change for folks who already have cannabis charges on their records.
Specifically, the new bill will make it possible for cannabis charges to be expunged. Under the terms of the new bill, people convicted of first- or second-degree possession could have those charges expunged if they don’t have any other arrests for five years.
For many of the lawmakers supporting the bill, these changes are about addressing the harm caused by current laws.
Speaking to local media source AL.com, Senator Malika Sanders-Fortier said that upper class people are rarely punished for so-called marijuana crimes.
“It’s the low-income people, people who are impoverished,” Senator Malika 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.”
Along with class, race is another primary source of inequity in Alabama’s current marijuana laws. Just last year, a study found that Alabama cannabis laws disproportionately harm black cannabis consumers.
This bill isn’t the first time Alabama lawmakers have tried to revise the state’s cannabis laws. Last year, a similar bill aimed at reducing the penalties for weed was brought before the Legislature. That bill failed to materialize.