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.
Senate Schedules Second Cannabis Hearing For Next Week
A key Senate committee will hold a hearing next week to discuss hemp production, featuring witnesses from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In the months since hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, there’s been strong interest in developing USDA and FDA regulations for the crop and its compounds such as CBD, and lawmakers have repeatedly pressed the agencies to speed up the rulemaking process to unlock the industry’s potential.
While the hearing notice doesn’t go into detail about what will be discussed, the meeting’s title—”Hemp Production and the 2018 Farm Bill”—and list of witnesses indicate that the conversation will revolve around the development of federal guidelines for hemp businesses.
— Sen. Ag Republicans (@SenateAgGOP) July 17, 2019
USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Greg Ibach, USDA General Counsel Stephen Vaden, FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy and EPA Assistant Administrator of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Alexandra Dunn will appear before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry on July 25.
I am honored to be called by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry to testify next week (7/25) on “Hemp Production and the 2018 Farm Bill.” As FDA, we recognize how important the topics of hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) are to Americans. https://t.co/bHMBGth1bL
— Dr. Amy Abernethy (@DrAbernethyFDA) July 18, 2019
Other invited witnesses include Kentucky farmer Brian Furnish, National Hemp Association Executive Director Erica Stark and Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki.
The Senate Agriculture Committee meeting will mark the chamber’s second cannabis-related hearing of the week. The Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs announced on Tuesday that it will meet to discuss marijuana banking issues on July 23.
FDA and USDA have both recently signaled that they were cognizant of widespread interest in creating regulatory pathways for hemp and its derivatives, with USDA stating that it planned to release an interim final rule on the products in August and FDA’s Abernethy writing that the agency is “expediting” its rulemaking process. FDA added that it hoped to release a report on its progress by early fall.
That said, heads of the departments have also tried to temper expectations. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that USDA wouldn’t be expediting regulatory developments but that he expected them to be issued ahead of the 2020 planting seasons.
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, meanwhile, cited policy complications that would make it difficult for the agency to create an alternative regulatory pathway for hemp-derived CBD products to be lawfully marketed as food items or dietary supplements. He said that without congressional action, it may take FDA years to establish those rules.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.
As More States Legalize, DEA Chops Down Fewer Marijuana Plants, Federal Data Shows
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized far fewer marijuana plants in 2018 compared to the previous year but made significantly more cannabis-related arrests, according to federal data released this month.
More than 2.8 million indoor and outdoor marijuana plants were seized last year as part of the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. That marks a 17 percent decline from 2017 levels.
NORML first noted the DEA report, which also shows that marijuana-related arrests the agency was involved with increased by about 20 percent in a year. And while the overall number of plants that were seized dropped, DEA said that the value of the assets totaled about $52 million—more than twice as much as it reported the previous year.
State-level legalization efforts appear to have played a role in the declining number of plant seizures, particularly those cultivated outdoors. In the same year that retail cannabis sales started in California, DEA confiscated almost 40 percent fewer outdoor plants in the state compared to 2017.
That data point is consistent with recent research showing that legalization is associated with a decrease in the number of illicit cannabis grows in national forests, which are often targets for DEA enforcement action.
It’s not clear why there was a significant uptick in marijuana-related arrests, but those increases generally did not occur in states where legal cannabis systems were recently implemented.
For example, arrests in Kansas, where marijuana is strictly prohibited, increased by more than 3,500 percent—from 15 to 544—from 2017 to 2018. Louisiana likewise experienced a 168 percent increase in cannabis arrests.
The data covers federal law enforcement actions and does not include those of local police agencies that did not partner with the agency.
Year-over-year decreases in cannabis seizures through DEA’s eradication program have been viewed by advocates as evidence that state-level legalization systems effectively displace the illicit market, removing the incentive to illegally cultivate cannabis.
Similarly, a separate recent report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission showed that federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking dropped precipitously in 2018—another sign demonstrating that state-level legalization is disrupting the illicit market, advocates argue.
NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told Marijuana Moment that “federal eradication programs are a holdover from a bygone era.”
“At a time when roughly one-quarter of the country resides in a jurisdiction where adult marijuana use is legal, and when members of Congress are openly discussing removing cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act, it is time for these federal anti-marijuana efforts to be put out to pasture and for federal agencies to take positions that more closely comport with cannabis’ rapidly changing cultural status in America,” he said.
DEA has also faced criticism of its cannabis eradication efforts from a non-partisan federal watchdog agency last year for failing to adequately collect documentation from state and local law enforcement partners funded through the program.
The Government Accountability Office said in a report that DEA “has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals.”
At the same time that DEA is seizing fewer plants grown illicitly, it’s also setting higher goals for federally authorized cannabis cultivation for research purposes. In 2019, the agency said it hoped to grow approximately 5,400 pounds of marijuana to meet research demand, which is more than double its quota for 2018.
Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access
In one of the clearest signs of marijuana reform’s growing momentum on Capitol Hill, a Republican-controlled Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for next week that will examine cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banking services.
The formal discussion in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Tuesday comes as legislation aimed at resolving the marijuana industry’s financial services problems is gaining momentum. A House cannabis banking bill that cleared that chamber’s Financial Services Committee with a bipartisan vote in March now has 206 cosponsors—nearly half the body—while companion Senate legislation has 32 out of 100 senators signed on.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)