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New Bill in Alabama Would Remove Criminal Penalties for Cannabis Possession

With growing bipartisan support for reduced possession penalties, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ home state could finally start enacting criminal justice reform around marijuana.

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Photo via Exothermic

State lawmakers in Alabama will debate a cannabis decriminalization bill in both the Senate and House judiciary committees Wednesday, signaling a potential shift towards cannabis reform in one of the south’s most ardently prohibitionist states.

According to Alabama.com, the penalty reduction legislation, if passed, would make possession of one ounce of weed or less into a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $250. Currently, even carrying a dimebag of weed is considered a misdemeanor offense and can carry up to one year in jail and $6,000 in fines.

The bill is incredibly similar to decriminalization legislation in cities and states around the country, but with conservative values still permeating much of the state, lawmakers are choosing their words wisely, avoiding any talk of legalization or even decriminalization entirely.

With lawmakers focusing the logic and messaging of the legislation on reducing jail time for young people caught with small amounts of cannabis, the possession leniency bill has already amassed bipartisan support, with sponsorship from Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, and Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery.

"No one is talking about legalizing possession of marijuana," Brewbaker said. "But I haven't talked to anybody who thinks hanging felonies on college kids is a great idea because that follows them around for the rest of their lives."

But while even legislators supporting the bill are hedging their bets as to not come off like legalization supporters, their constituents aren’t nearly as shy. In a poll of Alabama voters released by Green Market Report last month, over 60% of Alabama residents said that they support adult-use cannabis legalization.

Combined, the Alabama legislature’s move towards cannabis reform and the evolving opinions of its residents fly directly in the face of the state’s most newsworthy citizen, Attorney General Jeff Sessions. As the Trump administration’s most ardent marijuana prohibitionist, Sessions has for years compared weed to heroin, and claimed that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” but thankfully that sentiment did not sink in with most Alabamians.

And as Sessions has since graduated from the Alabama Attorney General’s office to his current federal position, the door may now be open for some concrete changes to the state’s draconian drug laws.

"I haven't talked to one person who is against [the penalty reduction bill]," said Representative Patricia Todd to Alabama.com.