Alabama legislators will have the opportunity to legalize personal use and cultivation of marijuana for adults 21 and up, create a state-regulated marijuana retail system and legalize industrial hemp production with House Bill 550, introduced yesterday.
Alabama might not be the first state that comes to mind when thinking of marijuana legalization, but people in the Cotton State love their herb and Birmingham Rep. Patricia Todd knows it: she's already introduced two medical marijuana bills in the last two sessions. But House Bill 550 is a much bigger step.
The bill is crafted very similarly Colorado's Amendment 64 using language that has been promoted by the Marijuana Policy Project in nearly a dozen other states this year. If passed, HB 550 would allow adults 21 and up to posesss and use up to an ounce of marijuana at a time and cultivate up to twelve marijuana plants in an locked space.
Marijuana would only be sold at state-regulated stores. Marijuana use would not be a right, however and employers could still fire employees who came up positive on a drug test - even if they weren't ever high on the job. Like Colorado, the bill also says that driving under the influence would remain illegal.
Alabama state Rep. Patricia Todd.
Personal sales would not be allowed, but adults over 21 could give away herb to other consenting adults over 21. Communities would be allowed to ban marijuana retail stores - something dozens of Colorado municipalities have chosen to do since the passage of Amendment 64. HB 550 would also legalize paraphernalia possession. Sales would be taxed, with revenue going to state police who would use it to go after illegal drugs in the state. Marijuana wouldn't be taxed any more than alcohol already is in the state.
Importantly, the bill would authorize medical use of cannabis for all Alabamans with a doctor's recommendation, including those under 21. It would also allow patients to designate someone as their caregiver. Basically, Todd tacked her existing medical bill to HB 550.
The bill now has until the legislative session ends on May 20 to move through committee and both the state house and legislature. If passed, it would take effect this October.
The state desperately needs some reform. Currently, possession of any amount for personal use is a misdemeanor with up to a year in jail and $6,000 in fines. If police deem that it is for something "other than personal use", you're facing a felony charge with a mandatory year in prison and up to nine more if the judge feels like it. Fines can get up to $15,000 at that point. Sale of any amount - even a joint - is a felony with an automatic two years in prison, the possibility of 18 more years in prison and $30,000 in fines. Paraphernalia alone can get you a year in jail and $1,000 in fines. Basically, don't ever get caught with pot on Alabama.