Tuscaloosa council committee approves citations for marijuana offenses

TUSCALOOSA, AL — Tuscaloosa Police Chief Brent Blankley presented to the Tuscaloosa City Council Public Safety Committee on Tuesday a plan that, if passed, would see some low-level marijuana offenses charged by a simple quote, as opposed to a trip to the county. jail.

Offenses covered would be second degree possession of marijuana, incorrect ID, possession of drug paraphernalia and other minor offences. Currently, those charged with second-degree marijuana possession in Tuscaloosa City Court face a maximum sentence of 180 days in county jail and a fine of no more than $500.

Blankley told Patch in a post-vote phone interview that it’s been a long time coming for a department that continually seeks innovation. For example, the police chief and city attorney said it took an average of two hours for an officer to return to the field after making an arrest – a strain on resources that would be significantly alleviated if the officers had discretion to issue citations. in some cases.

“We believe this can be managed with a ticket and it will save us time, especially with cooperative people who are stuck with it,” Blankley said. “They know they have to go to court. It also saves us money because they don’t get taken to jail, so we don’t have to pay for them.”

However, as Blankley pointed out to council members, “If you fight us or run from us, you’ll go to jail for your marijuana.”

“Officers will always use officer discretion and it’s like an open drink [citation] we do now,” he said. “It’s the same basis as that, so hopefully if you have a dime bag in your car, we’ll stop you and give you a ticket and you go on Your way.”

For the state, those convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession in Alabama face up to a year in prison and fines of up to $6,000. And as numerous reports from advocacy groups have indicated, the state spends $22 million in taxpayer dollars each year to enforce marijuana laws that are becoming increasingly archaic compared to laws in other states. , including neighboring Mississippi.

In Mississippi, for example, people found in possession of less than an ounce of marijuana — 30 grams — are fined $250 for their first two offenses and a maximum fine of $1,000 for their third offense. There is no jail time associated with misdemeanor marijuana arrests in Mississippi.

Conversely, State Senator Bobby Singleton, Democrat of Greensboro and member of the Tuscaloosa County legislative delegation, is the sponsor of SB160. If passed and signed into law, the measure would impose a $250 fine on those found in possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.

Singleton’s bill recently received a favorable report from the Senate Judiciary Committee and can be read in full by clicking here.

In Tuscaloosa, however, Blankley hopes the measure will finally gain the momentum it needs to pass into law.

“I think the city council is in favor of it,” he said. “We always try to be innovative in the police department and that has always been something that has weighed on us in the past. Few people will go to jail and there is always overcrowding, so we think it will be much better for the community.”

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