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Jefferson county ending misdemeanor marijuana arrests

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Alabama's most populous county will immediately end arrests for misdemeanors including the possession of small amounts of marijuana, officials announced Monday.

Officers will begin issuing tickets for nonviolent misdemeanor offenses rather than taking people to jail, Capt. David Agee, a spokesman for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, told a news conference.

"People are always talking about criminal justice reform," he said. "Well this is more than talk, this is action. This is big.'"

People could still wind up in jail if misdemeanor offenses are tied to more serious crimes.

Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway advocated curtailing arrests for small amounts of marijuana during his campaign last year.

The change will save jail space and supplies and allow officers to concentrate on more serious offenses, Agee said. He also questioned whether young people caught with a small amount of marijuana should have to spend a night in jail.

"I think this is going to help a lot of people and get a lot of people back on track. Those who want help will be able to get help," he said.

The state attorney general's office didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the change in Jefferson County, which has a population estimated by the Census at 659,300.

The change in Jefferson County came as the Alabama Legislature is considering a measure that would reduce the penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana meant for personal use.

The bill would make possession of less than 2 ounces (57 grams) of marijuana punishable by a fine instead of jail time. An offense would be classified as a violation, a step below a misdemeanor, and carry a fine of up to $250.

The measure would also allow for charges to be expunged in some cases.

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