Ensure a Common Sense Response to the Possession of Marijuana
Current Law: Alabama laws related to marijuana-related offenses lack clear, reasonable weight thresholds triggering possession or distribution charges.
- 2,351 – the number of marijuana possession arrests in 2016 alone
- 23% – the percentage of marijuana possession arrests when compared with ALL drug arrests, both possession and sale
- Over 4.5 times – the disparity of African Americans arrested for marijuana possession when compared with whites, despite both groups using marijuana at roughly the same rate
- 6th – the ranking of unlawful possession of marijuana in the 1st degree among ALL felony offenses at conviction
- 901 – the number of felony convictions in 2015 for the unlawful possession of marijuana in the 1st degree
- 5,014 – the number of felony convictions between October 2010 and September 2015 for the unlawful possession of marijuana in the 1st degree
- $13,286,722 – the amount of money that Alabama spent in 2010 on the enforcement of its marijuana possession laws alone
- 9 + DC – the number of states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana
- 13 – the number of states that have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana
- Alabama needlessly ensnares Alabamians in the criminal justice system. In 2016, more Alabamians were arrested for the possession of marijuana than for opioids, cocaine (including its derivatives such as morphine, heroin, codeine, and crack), and synthetic narcotics. A total of 2,351 arrests – 23 percent of all drug arrests – were for marijuana possession. Even a conviction for the possession of a small amount of marijuana can be significant and can last for years, including access to student financial aid, housing, and employment.
- Alabama wastes money and misuses law enforcement resources. In 2010, Alabama spent $13,286,722 on the enforcement of its marijuana possession laws. Marijuana possession arrests involve a judge, a clerk, law enforcement officers, forensics, storage, and prosecutors, all paid for by Alabama’s taxpayers. Alabama should focus its resources on strategies and programs that will make our communities safer – investigating serious crimes and investing in substance abuse and mental health programs.
- Enforcement disproportionately impacts African Americans. 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. The war on marijuana is enforced along color lines.
- Alabama’s marijuana laws lack clearly defined thresholds, resulting in uneven justice. Alabama law lacks clarity between marijuana possession and distribution. Person A and Person B can be arrested for possession of the same amount of marijuana under the same circumstances, and face very different punishments based on the subjective decision of a government official. This legislation would reduce the likelihood that Alabamians would face vastly different punishments for the same action.
- Alabama is turning otherwise law-abiding people into felons for merely possessing 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. This is not just a problem on paper. 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. A felony conviction can upend a life by limiting access to employment, housing, and college loan programs. Alabama should follow other states in recognizing that such consequences are too burdensome for marijuana possession.
Solution: SB 251 & HB 272 would:
- Reclassify the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana as a fine-only offense.
- Reclassify the possession of more than one ounce, but less than two ounces as a Class D felony.
- Reclassify the possession of more than two ounces as a Class C felony.