The state of Alabama on Wednesday has witnessed some movement by its lawmakers aimed at reducing penalties for marijuana possession.
On Wednesday, Alabama’s Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-4 to approve a bill by Republican Sen. Dick Brewbaker of Pike Road, and now it is heading to the Senate, the Associated Press reported.
Brewbaker, who said the state should not “hang felonies on college kids. If approved, the bill will make an offense for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana punishable by a fine instead of jail time.
His bill will lower the grade of the offence from misdemeanour to a violation, and carry a fine of up to $250.
Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, told Brewbaker he would probably vote against the bill if it came to the Senate floor. Williams said he has worked as a counselor for people with addictions and said many started out on marijuana.
Another Bill Didn’t Go Through
Meanwhile, another much-anticipated bill aimed at reducing the penalty for the possession of marijuana did not go through on Wednesday after the House Judiciary Committee voted 7-5 against it.
Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, who has tried for years to lessen the penalty, wanted through his bill to make the possession of an ounce or less to be punishable only by a fine of up to $250, Alabama daily reported.
The state of Alabama’s current law makes the possession of marijuana for personal use as a misdemeanor on the first offense and a low-level felony on the second offense.
However, Todd wanted to reduce possession to a violation, which is less than a misdemeanor, applying it for both the first and second offense. The bill would also deem third and subsequent offenses to stay as a violation, punishable by a fine of up to $500.
“I’m sad,” said Todd. “But it’s an election year. And a lot of people who voted no told me to my face that they were going to vote yes. And I think the roll-call vote scared a lot of people (who) don’t want to look like they’re soft on drugs. But most people sitting there have no concept or understanding of marijuana.”
Critics such as Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the bill went too far by keeping repeated offenses as a violation.
“I think we’re probably headed toward either some type of either decriminalization or lesser emphasis being placed on marijuana,” Hill said. “But it’s illegal. And to say that no matter how many times you use it, how many times its personal use, it never rises to the level of a misdemeanor, I just think that’s a mistake.”