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Bill to loosen marijuana laws gets favorable report from committee

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday gave a favorable report to a bill that would decrease the criminal penalties for marijuana possession.

Senate Bill 251, sponsored by Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, would reclassify the possession of 1 ounce of less of marijuana as a fine-only offense.

It would also reclassify the possession of more than 1 ounce but less than 2 ounces as a Class-D felony. It would reclassify the possession of more than 2 ounces as a Class-C felony.

Sen. Dick Brewbaker speaks at a committee meeting in favor of a bill that would decriminalize marijuana on Feb. 21, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

“Nobody wants to be arresting college kids,” Brewbaker said. “Our current rules on trafficking remain in place.”

Brewbaker’s bill was met with opposition by some committee members.

“My first job I had out of college was working in a teen drug and alcohol treatment center,” Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, said. “I worked with a bunch of addicts. All started with marijuana.”

Williams said that the penalties for possession have become a “slap on the wrist.”

“My experience is that the drug of choice in Alabama is alcohol not marijuana,” Brewbaker said in response.

“In Colorado (after legalization) among teenagers and college age people use has not increased among young people,” Brewbaker added. “People who are going to smoke it are going to smoke it and people who aren’t.”

Brewbaker, who is also a prominent car dealer in the Montgomery area, said Marijuana felonies are common when hiring new employees.

“People come in all the time trying to get jobs and I see that we have hung a felony on them,” Brewbaker said.

Williams said that he opposes the bill and “will probably filibuster it on the floor.”

His final attempt to stop the bill happened when he introduced a motion to table the bill, which would effectively kill it. That motion failed on a 3-5 vote.

Bill opponent Sen. Phil Williams listens as Sen. Brewbaker, the bill’s sponsor,  makes his pitch at a Senate Judiciary Committee Meeting on Feb. 21, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

There was a contingent of senators on the committee who approved the bill.

“Thank you for bringing this bill. I support you,” Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said. “We have an alcohol problem in Alabama.”

Singleton added that he has “never seen a marijuana addict.”

Another supporter was Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, who voted in favor of the bill.

“When we go out to dinner we want a cocktail or a class of wine,” Coleman-Madison said. “It is a matter of lifestyle and people have changed.”

Alabama Appleseed supports Brewbaker’s legislation. The organization’s support rests upon four points:

  • The current law needlessly ensnares Alabamians in the criminal justice system.
  • Alabama wastes money and misuses law enforcement resources.
  • Enforcement disproportionately impacts African Americans.
  • Current marijuana laws lack clearly defined thresholds resulting in uneven justice.

In 2016 more Alabamians were arrested for the possession of marijuana than for opioids or cocaine, including derivatives such as morphine, heroin, codeine, and crack.

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The bill was given a favorable report on a 6-4 vote, and it now moves to the full Senate.

State Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, has introduced the same legislation in the Alabama House of Representatives. Neither Todd nor Brewbaker are running for additional terms, so both will not face re-election in November.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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