Alabama Legislature adjourns with one bright spot for cannabis policy reform in 2023
The Alabama Legislature adjourned on June 6, 2023. While Alabama remains one of only 19 states that still jails its residents for simple possession of cannabis, some modest progress was made that will reduce the number of cannabis consumers arrested.
This year, cannabis decriminalization (SB 42) was introduced again by Sen. Bobby Singleton (D), but it failed to get out of committee. However, a bill allowing cities to adopt a “Cite and Release” policy for certain minor offenses — HB13 — passed the legislature and was signed into law on June 20, 2023.
Rep. Christopher England’s (D) HB 13 allows municipalities to adopt a “Cite and Release” policy for nonviolent misdemeanors, including — in some cases — possession of cannabis for personal use. Personal use is not defined by statute, however, leaving great discretion to an arresting officer.
HB 13 was amended in conference committee to provide that the cite-and-release policy can only apply to the use or possession of a controlled substance (including cannabis) if the policy is authorized “by local law.” Under Alabama law, this requires the entire local delegation of state lawmakers to pass a local bill (as opposed to an ordinance that the municipality could pass itself). This can be done in a regular or special session of the legislature. This language was introduced by the Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, Will Barfoot (R), specifically to prevent Montgomery from adopting this policy. His opposition was based on cannabis possession being included. The only city “grandfathered” in was Tuscaloosa (which had a decriminalization ordinance passed before May 1, 2022). We look forward to working with allies, spearheaded by the Southern Poverty Law Center, to help municipalities begin this process.
While HB 13 will allow cities to avoid pre-trial detention for minor offenses, it does not prevent post-conviction incarceration for cannabis — nor does it prevent the scarlet letter of a criminal conviction. Contact your lawmakers and ask them to make cannabis decriminalization a priority. Let them know it’s past time to end these draconian penalties and free up law enforcement resources to focus on serious crime.
Alabama stalls on the issuing of medical cannabis licenses
Alabama became the 36th state to pass medical cannabis legislation in 2021 and has been making strides towards implementation. The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission awarded its first group of licenses on June 12, 2023, but within days decided it needed to review the process in which the licenses were granted. There is no timeline as of yet as to when another decision will be made on the final granting of licenses. The medical program cannot move forward until these licenses are awarded.
We’ve provided a summary of the law, the Compassion Act (SB 46)here. While it is far better than what it replaced — no medical protections at all — ,there are a number of provisions that are unnecessarily burdensome on patients. It steers pain patients to try opioids first, and it requires doctors to jump through hoops — including a four-hour course and a fee of up to $300 — that will depress participation. It also prohibits smoking, vaporization, and whole-plant cannabis, which drives up prices and denies some patients the treatment option that works best for them.
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While cannabis policy reform is sweeping the country, Alabama remains one of only 19 states that still imposes jail time for simple possession of cannabis. SB 160, which takes jail off the table and allows for expungements, has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and will next head to the Senate floor! Now is the perfect time to let your elected officials know you want them to catch up with the times.