An Alabama lawmaker said Wednesday that he wants to increase the amount of marijuana needed to invoke a drug trafficking charge.
Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, said most other Southern states level a trafficking charge when someone’s caught with 8 or 10 pounds of marijuana, while in Alabama, the limit is one kilogram, or 2.2 pounds.
Brewbaker said he’s not a proponent of pot legalization, but wants to give prosecutors more leeway in dealing with defendants who are caught growing their own.
“The roots, the seeds, everything counts toward the weight,” he said. A single plant might weigh a kilogram, he said, but only a small portion of that would be the actual drug.
Alabama lawmakers in recent years have given no sign they intend to join the growing list of states that are decriminalizing pot. Bills to legalize medical use of the drug and to make marijuana possession a minor violation, similar to a traffic ticket, have gone nowhere. It took legislators more than one session to agree to approve a medical study of cannabidiol, a marijuana-derived chemical that doesn’t give users a high.
Still, legislators in recent years have taken a closer look at some sentencing requirements for drug offenses, largely because the state’s prisons remain overcrowded. There are 21,000 inmates in Alabama prisons built for 13,000, according to the most recent numbers from the Department of Corrections. That’s down from the more than 25,000 who were in prison just four years ago, largely because of a 2015 law that lightened sentences for some drug and property crimes.
Drug trafficking carries a minimum sentence of three years.
“To get a mandatory minimum sentence in South Carolina, you have to have 10 pounds,” Brewbaker said. He claims district attorneys support the idea of increasing Alabama’s limit, because it would give them more leeway in charging marijuana-related crimes. Possession of marijuana for other than personal use has a minimum sentence of one year.
Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh, who’s also president of the state District Attorneys Association, said the association has yet to weigh in on the bill but would likely do so after its first 2018 meeting in January.
“I couldn’t weigh in on it personally until I read the bill,” he said.
Brewbaker announced via social media over the weekend that he’d file the bill, which hasn’t appeared on the Legislature’s website yet. Earlier this year he proposed raising the limit for trafficking to 10 pounds. That bill, Brewbaker said, later got folded into a compromise bill that also increased penalties for trafficking in fentanyl, an opioid drug that state officials believe is partly responsible for recent increases in overdose deaths. The bill didn’t pass.
In recent years, bills to reduce sentences have typically faced tougher opposition in the House than they have in the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee is made up largely of lawyers; the House Judiciary Committee includes a handful of current and former law enforcement officers.
Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, sits on the House committee and is a former Jefferson County deputy. He said Wednesday that to consider Brewbaker’s proposal, he’d need evidence that higher limits didn’t increase crime in other states.
“Let’s look at those states and see what the results have been,” he said.
Lawmakers convene for the 2018 session on Jan 9. There are already 78 bills awaiting their approval.
Capitol and statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter: @TLockette_Star.