City Council hosts work session on misdemeanor marijuana arrest options

Published: Jun. 2, 2022 at 11:20 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 3, 2022 at 6:36 AM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Should Huntsville police officers be given the option to issue citations to those in possession of marijuana instead of arresting them on the spot? Huntsville City Council President John Meredith, and District 1 Council Member Devyn Keith think so, and voiced their opinions at Thursday’s town hall meeting.

“What this resolution is about is actually bringing Huntsville on par with other municipalities in our state that have the ability to issue a citation for misdemeanor amounts of marijuana,” Meredith said. “We are not asking for special privilege. We are asking to keep up with the rest of the state.”

Alabama is one of 37 states that have legalized the use of medicinal marijuana. Recreational use is still illegal. Huntsville city leaders have been discussing misdemeanor marijuana arrest procedures for months, and some would like to move forward with a vote on a new policy.

Meredith said this proposal is not about decriminalizing marijuana. Rather, it’s about how a person winds up in front of a judge to be punished. Under current law, officers are forced to make an arrest even over small amounts of marijuana. The idea behind the proposal is limiting the time officers spend booking nonviolent offenders, while sparing citizens a trip to jail. Simply put, instead of being arrested and then appearing before a judge, leaders believe you should get a ticket and then go to court.

“This is about how you get before the judge to be adjudicated for possession,” Meredith said. “It does not have anything to do with the penalties for being in possession of.”

Meredith said Huntsville police officers and the court system support this policy.

“If you truly believe in backing the blue, you need to be supporting this,” he said.

Council member Keith also explained why he believes this is a social issue. He said we should not penalize someone just to get them to court.

“We are policing a certain way that has had an impact in a lot of ways, certainly in parts of the community,” Council member Devyn Keith said. “And overall, my perspective as Devyn Keith, is that the use of this has a social stigma that is being carried that impacts, again, people who are found with it.”

It was light crowd at Huntsville city hall Thursday night, di scussing the heavy subject. One citizen even questioned Meredith and Keith about whether they could get enough support. However, most of the citizens in attendance showed their support of the policy.

“This is an issue that we are actively working on in multiple municipalities across the state,” said policy director for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “We’ll be working with Birmingham city council, Huntsville city council, as well as some of the other larger municipalities across the state to try and make that first step of how we handle these types of cases.”

Another citizen said it’s more important for leaders to focus on helping people get off much worse substances.

Keith responded to his statement.

“Alcohol and wrecks kill people 10 to 15 times more than anything else in the majority of the state right,” Keith said. “The abuse of alcohol within itself leads to a DUI, but it does not carry the same sentiment and social stigma as an arrest for misdemeanor marijuana.”

If the policy is approved by Huntsville city leaders, it would still be up to state lawmakers to pass a bill allowing the change.

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