The Alabama Senate approved a bill to legalize medical marijuana on Thursday.
In a 17 to 6 vote, the chamber cleared the legislation, which would allow patients 19 and older with certain conditions to obtain a medical cannabis card that would allow them to use, possess and purchase marijuana from licensed dispensaries.
It would also establish an Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to oversee the program. Patients would have to have tried traditional treatment options and also be subject to random drug testing.
The conditions that would qualify patients for the program under the legislation include cancer, autism, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and all terminal conditions.
Alabama Senate passes the medical marijuana bill by a vote of 17-6. Bill moves to the House. #alpolitics
— Mike Cason (@MikeCasonAL) May 9, 2019
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill in a 6-2 vote last month.
The legislation cleared an initial procedural motion on the floor on Wednesday with a 21 to 3 vote.
With the favorable vote, the bill now heads to the House. While it could have gone before the chamber’s Judiciary Committee for consideration, Speaker Mac McMcCutcheon (R) said on Thursday evening that it would instead be sent to the Health Committee, where it will likely face more favorable odds.
House Speaker Mac McMcCutcheon just held his weekly gaggle. Good news for the medical marijuana bill: It will go to the House Health Committee. It could have gone to House Judiciary, where it almost certainly would have been in trouble. #alpolitics
— Brian Lyman (@lyman_brian) May 9, 2019
“There is a time I never would have carried this bill a year ago, two years ago,” Sen. Tim Melson (R), the bill’s sponsor, said during the floor debate on Wednesday. “I finally looked up the facts instead of stereotyping what medical cannabis is.”
Melson, the medical marijuana sponsor, starts off: "There is a time I never would have carried this bill a year ago, two years ago. … I finally looked up the facts instead of stereotyping what medical cannabis is." #alpoitics
— Brian Lyman (@lyman_brian) May 8, 2019
The senator also argued that legalizing marijuana for medical purposes could mitigate opioid prescriptions in the state.
Beyond legalizing medical cannabis, the bill would also extend two existing state laws set to expire. One allows for the University of Alabama to conduct studies on the use of CBD and the other “provides a defense against unlawful possession” of CBD for qualifying patients.
Tax revenue from medical cannabis sales would be used to implement the program and then, if the system is adequately funded, revenue would go toward the state’s general fund.
While medical cannabis advanced, lawmakers in the House Judiciary Committee narrowly rejected a bill on Wednesday that would have made low-level possession of marijuana a violation punishable by a fine and no jail time.
That modest decriminalization proposal might have failed, but it’s possible that the chamber will be more inclined to embrace a patient-focused marijuana measure. Melson made clear during the floor debate that he has “no desire” to legalize for adult use if medical cannabis passes.
Stutts asking how many states have legalized recreational marijuana. Melson: "I have no desire to go down that road." #alpolitics
— Brian Lyman (@lyman_brian) May 8, 2019
The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a similar cannabis decriminalization bill last month.
The South, long considered a cannabis dead zone, has become increasingly supportive of amending marijuana laws.
The Texas House recently approved bills to decriminalize marijuana and expand the state’s limited medical cannabis program. The governor of Georgia signed legislation expanding the state’s medical cannabis program earlier in April. And a Kentucky House committee approved medical marijuana legalization in March, for example.
This story was updated to add information about the House committee the legislation will be referred to.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.