As marijuana arrests continue on the streets of Birmingham and throughout Alabama each day, Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) has taken the bold step of offering up proposed legislation that would make personal use and possession of the drug legal here.
Birmingham Criminal Defense LawyerRichard Perry, as a member of the non-profit marijuana advocacy group NORML, understands well that this could be an uphill battle, though we remain optimistic. It would effectively give Alabama residents both limited personal use authorization, as well as allow for larger-quantity medicinal use when prescribed.
Alabama HB 550 is a 40-page bill that would allow for the possession, use and cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana for personal use by people who are over the age of 21. The proposal would also authorize the Department of Revenue to regulate any cultivation, processing, packaging, testing, transportation, display and sale of the drug. Sales that weren’t conducted through regulated retail outlets would be prohibited, and the product would be taxed appropriately.
Additionally, HB 550 would also authorize medical use of candidates for certain patients who qualified by having been diagnosed with a serious medical condition by a doctor.
Entitled the Alabama Cannabis and Hemp Reform Act of 2013, it’s actually the third attempt at such a measure from Rep. Todd. Her efforts included two other medical marijuana bills, which were introduced earlier this year.
This measure is unique in that it would allow those local communities opposed to the measure to ban marijuana retail outlets, also known as dispensaries, but only if such action was approved by voters.
If passed, the law would also provide sanctions for minors under the age of 21 who were found to be in possession of the drug, save for those who were exempt as qualifying for medicinal use.
A passage of a law like this would mark a huge shift for Alabama, which has some of the harshest laws on the books with regard to marijuana. For example, simple possession, even of a single joint, is punishable by up to one year in jail, as well as a $6,000 fine.
Any amount discovered that police determine is not for personal use will be prosecuted as a Class C felony. As such, you would be facing between 1 to 10 years in prison. Not only is the punishment extreme, the label of felon – one typically reserved for violent offenders – is ridiculous. Nonetheless prevent you from a wide range of employment opportunities and will likely follow you in many other aspects of your life – always.
Sale or trafficking of the drug is even more serious, with penalties ranging from 2 years all the way up to life in prison, with fines ranging from $25,000 to $200,000. Additional penalties are also tacked on if the sale or distribution was to a minor or within a certain distance of a school or public housing project (the latter of which disproportionately targets poor and minority offenders).
The reality is that the vast majority of Americans do support legalization of marijuana, but it remains to be seen whether our Alabama state legislators will follow suit. While we are certainly hopeful that HB 550 will be successful, our goal in the meantime is to prevent you from incurring a conviction.
A defense can be particularly effective if the marijuana was not found on your person, even if it was in your vehicle or a vehicle in which you were riding.
We will question the validity of the police officer’s reasons for the initial stop or contact, whether the search was appropriate and whether there might be details overlooked by the investigating officers that would work in your favor.