Montgomery council member Marche Johnson is advocating for the Capitol City to institute a policy that allows for police to issue a citation for misdemeanor marijuana possession in lieu of an arrest.
It’s a policy that has already been in effect in Tuscaloosa for about a year, and is being considered by other Alabama cities including Huntsville and at the state level.
Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said the policy has saved the city time and money.
“This interview actually gave me a chance to look back over the data and I’m very pleased with it,” Maddox told APR.
Over the past 12 months, Maddox said 699 people have been charged with second-degree possession of marijuana, and 294 of those have been issued a citation in lieu of a custodial arrest.
That arrest process takes about two hours per individual, Maddox said, meaning the 294 citations have saved the city nearly 25 days of work time over the past year.
“It has been a force multiplier for us,” Maddox said.
Maddox said the process has also saved the city about $20,000 in costs associated with the arrest process, as well as limiting liability for transport and many other impacts an arrest has.
And Maddox emphasized, this isn’t decriminalization of marijuana possession, even though 21 states have made it legal to smoke marijuana recreationally.
The policy does not change the penalties, including jail time, associated with a misdemeanor marijuana possession, it simply allows officers to skip the initial custodial arrest, similar to a traffic ticket.
It also allows discretion to officers, Maddox said, so that they can still make a custodial arrest if they feel it is necessary.
The policy has had the support of law enforcement, at least in Tuscaloosa.
“So what that has given us is the ability to not have to tie up an officer for two hours on a physical arrest,” Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steve Rice said in an interview with News Channel 6 WBRC in July. “It’s mainly an administrative procedural thing on our end that allows us to write the citations. We’re obviously still going to take the marijuana from them because it’s still illegal, but they are allowed to leave the scene with a citation. Now, there are still consequences, still the court date and fines.”
Johnson, Montgomery’s representative for District 3, wants Montgomery to follow suit and is being assisted by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Seeing that Tuscaloosa has already passed an ordinance, I wanted to get ahead of it here,” Johnson said. “We have seen that Black men have been disproportionately imprisoned in Alabama for even recreational use of drugs. I represent a district that is over 75 percent Black, and my community has been impacted by this.
“We know that these people should not have to get arrested. We know that this will save the city dollars. We know this will make prisons less crowded. We know this will save law enforcement time and effort. So, I said, we need to do this here. Let’s do it. We need the police on the streets solving real crimes.”
Johnson has not yet brought forward any legislation, but said she plans to this spring, as early as April.
At the state level, Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, brought a bill, HB13, before the House Judiciary Committee last week to similar effect and received favorable report, setting it up for consideration by the full House in this session.