Today the Alabama Senate and House Judiciary Committees considered legislation to reclassify one ounce or less of marijuana as a civil offense, the possession of more than one ounce but less than two ounces as a Class D felony, and the possession of more than two ounces as a Class C felony. SB 251 (Senator Brewbaker) received a favorable report and HB 272 (Representative Todd) did not receive a favorable report.
“Every year, thousands of people are needlessly ensnared in Alabama’s criminal justice system merely for the possession of marijuana,” said Frank Knaack, executive director of Alabama Appleseed. “The impact of an arrest for possessing marijuana is often significant and the consequences can last for years. Even an arrest for the possession of a small amount of marijuana can upend somebody’s life by limiting access to employment, housing, and college loan programs. This legislation would begin to address the tremendous human and financial cost of Alabama’s war on marijuana.”
Under current law, a person arrested for possession of marijuana can be convicted of a felony if they have one previous marijuana possession conviction, regardless of the amount. In 2015, unlawful possession of marijuana in the 1st degree was the sixth-most frequent-felony offense at conviction (901 convictions). Between October 2010 and September 2015 there were 5,014 felony marijuana possession convictions.
The war on marijuana wastes money and misdirects law enforcement resources. Marijuana possession arrests involve a judge, a clerk, law enforcement officers, forensics, storage, and prosecutors, all paid for by Alabama’s taxpayers.
“Now in its fourth decade, the war on drugs has failed to eradicate or even diminish marijuana use,” said Knaack. “In 2010 alone, Alabama spent over $13 million on the enforcement of its marijuana possession laws. It’s time for Alabama to focus its resources on strategies and programs that will help keep our communities safe – investigating serious crimes and investing in substance abuse and mental health programs.”
The War on Marijuana disproportionately impacts African Americans. In 2016 African Americans made up just 26.8% of Alabama’s population, yet made up over 63% of all marijuana possession arrests.
“While African Americans and whites use marijuana at roughly equal rates, in 2016 African Americans were over 4.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Alabama,” said Knaack. “The war on marijuana is enforced along color lines.”
Thirteen states, including Mississippi, have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana and an additional nine states plus the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults.
“This legislation would bring Alabama in line with a growing number of states, including our neighbors in Mississippi, that have recognized that the war on marijuana is misguided, has wasted countless taxpayer dollars, and irreparably harmed too many lives,” said Knaack.
SB 251 now moves to the Senate floor.
HB 272 will not advance.
Alabama Appleseed fact sheet on SB 251 and HB 272.