A Birmingham attorney says that while legalization of marijuana in Alabama could take years, decriminalization would be a good start.
“Marijuana is gradually becoming more accepted across the country,” said attorney John Michael Barclay of Barclay Law LLC. “But drug offenses in Alabama involving marijuana can result in thousands of dollars in fines and significant jail time. Even possession of a small amount for personal use can result in legal problems.”
Currently in Alabama, possession of marijuana for personal use is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of a $6,000 fine and a year in prison.
Earlier this year, Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, introduced a bill in the Alabama Legislature that would decriminalize marijuana. The bill would punish possession of an ounce or less of marijuana with a $250 fine for a first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses, and a conviction for possessing less than an ounce wouldn't result in a criminal record. But the bill didn’t advance.
Barclay said that wasn’t surprising, given the conservative views on marijuana in the state.
A practicing attorney for more than a decade, Barclay is an advocate for marijuana legalization, and is a member of the legal committee for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
While medical marijuana remains illegal in the state, in 2016 the Legislature approved Leni’s Law, which allows the use of cannabidiol, a product derived from the marijuana plant, to treat seizure disorders and other debilitating medical conditions. It was later signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley.
Leni’s Law was an expansion of Carly’s Law, passed in 2014. That law authorized a study on the use of cannabidiol to treat seizure disorders.
While Barclay said he was happy to see those measures pass, he sees an uphill battle for legalization in Alabama.
“The trend nationwide is definitely toward legalization,” he said, noting that recreational marijuana is now legal in 8 states and the District of Columbia, and medical marijuana is legal in 21 more. “Alabama will get there eventually, but it’s going to be a long road.”