A key Alabama Senate committee approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession and provide expungements for people with prior convictions, sending it to the full Senate for consideration.
The Judiciary Committee advanced the legislation on Wednesday in a 5-4 vote. The same panel approved an identical version last year, but it stalled in the full chamber.
Under the proposal, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton (D), possessing less than two ounces of marijuana would be a simple violation that carries a $250 fine. That’s consistent with a previous version of the senator’s decriminalization bill that also moved through committee in 2019 but later died without a floor vote.
At one point during Wednesday’s hearing, the sponsor joked that he wished that he’d brought two ounces of paprika in case members “forgot” how relatively small that amount is.
Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee votes out bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Sen.Bobby Singleton, talking about his bill, said he wished he had brought in paprika to show members how little two ounces is,”in case you forgot.”
— Kim Chandler (@StatehouseKim) February 16, 2022
Possessing two or more ounces of cannabis would be a class C misdemeanor punishable by a $250 fine for the first offense and $500 for a second offense. Being convicted a third time would be classified as class D felony, but it would still be punishable “only” by a $750 fine without the threat of jail time.
The current bill also provides that a person convicted of possession would be able to petition the courts to have their records expunged, and that could be granted as long as the person doesn’t have any other violations, misdemeanors or felonies (except for “minor traffic violations”) in the preceding five years.
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Cannabis reform has been a consistent topic of interest within the Alabama legislature in recent years.
Last year, for example, Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state.
Under the legislation as enacted, patients will have to be diagnosed with one of about 20 conditions, including anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and intractable pain. Regulators will not be able to independently add additional conditions, leaving that decision up to lawmakers in future sessions.
The bill also prohibits raw cannabis, smoking, vaping and candy or baked good products. Patients will instead be allowed to purchase capsules, lozenges, oils, suppositories and topical patches.
For physicians to be able to recommend cannabis to patients, they will have to complete a four-hour continuing education course and pass an exam. The course will cost upwards of $500 and doctors would also be required to take refresher classes every two years.
Also last year, the governor signed another bill that expands expungement eligibility for certain convictions, including misdemeanor marijuana possession.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.