One of the most conservative states, Alabama, has made moves to decriminalize cannabis possession and expunge previous cannabis convictions. The Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee recently approved a bill that would decriminalize possession and wipe prior possession convictions. Alabama is one of only nineteen states that still punishes possession with jail time. The passed bill hopes to add the state to the rest of the country with minimal penalties.
Currently, Alabama law punishes possession of any amount of marijuana for up to a year in prison and a maximum fine of $6,000. Since medical cannabis is legal in Alabama, this law extends to those using recreational marijuana. Alabama only legalized medical marijuana in 2021, and growing licenses are not expected to be granted until September 2022. Advocates and legislatures wanted to ramp up medical operations, but they are not in full operation as of today. However, medical legalization is still a huge step and most often the stepping stone to adult-use legalization. This proposal helps speed that step along.
Alabama has already had the issue of cannabis step onto the main stage in the state. A recent gubernatorial candidate made marijuana reform part of his platform. Chad “Chig” Martin is the owner of a CBD shop and has made it clear that legalization is a platform he is passionate about. Martin has qualified for the primaries, and if he goes head to head with Kay Ivey (the current governor), there is no doubt cannabis will be a central issue. This new proposal is undoubtedly one potential Governor Martin would sign into law. Whether there is a leadership change in Alabama will be seen in 2022.
Singleton said about the law, “What we’re doing is basically trying to just make sure that we are not locking people up on marijuana charges.” the new proposal stipulates that the first two-possession convictions for two ounces or under would be a misdemeanor but with low fines and no fear of jail time. The first two offenses would be a $250 and $500 fine, respectively. If someone were to have a third offense, it would be considered a felony, but with no jail time and a fine of $750. Clearly, the proposed bill has by far lessened the penalties possessions would incur.
The new proposal also seems to have citizens’ support behind it. A recent poll by Civiqs found that 62% of Alabamans want and support the broad legalization of recreational cannabis use. Only 24% opposed legalization in the survey.
However, the decriminalization bill has a long way to go. Bobby Singleton (D), the bill’s sponsor, believes that the chances of the bill passing are “not bright considering it is an election year.” The same committee approved the same bill last year, yet it never made it to a chamber vote and was scrapped before it reached the floor; this current bill passed 5-4.
Southern states have notoriously been more stringent on cannabis laws. Like Mississippi and Arkansas, most states surrounding Alabama have legalized medical marijuana. Several have recreational proposals on the record. The tides of change seem to be saturating Southern states’ law, and the proposal was written so one day soon, Alabamans can buy pre-rolls and flower openly without fear of repercussion. It is yet to be seen how far the decriminalization bill will make it.