An Alabama Senate committee approved a bill legalizing medical marijuana on February 3 and sent it to the full floor for review. The legislation, introduced last week by Senator Tim Melson (R), would allow people with qualified conditions to have access to cannabis for therapeutic purposes. It cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee 8 to 3 after a very brief discussion and is now going to the entire Chamber to get their approval.
Melson is the same lawmaker who sponsored a similar bill that was approved by the Senate last year and that later passed away without a vote in the House of Representatives due to the terrible coronavirus pandemic. This latest proposal would create an 11-member Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to enforce regulations and oversee licensing.
Alabama Medical marijuana patient
To qualify for the program, patients would need to be diagnosed with one of approximately 20 medical conditions including, but not limited to, anxiety, sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and persistent pain. Regulators could not independently add additional conditions, so that decision is left to the legislature. Proponents say they are encouraged that medical cannabis reform in Alabama continues, but they have raised concerns about a number of aspects of the law.
A problematic provision is that patients with chronic or intractable pain can only be recommended medical marijuana in cases where “conventional therapeutic interventions and opiate therapies are contraindicated or have proven to be ineffective”. The bill also bans raw cannabis, smoking, vaping, and sweets or baked goods. Patients could buy capsules, lozenges, oils, suppositories, and topical patches instead.
Medical marijuana movement in Alabama
“It is encouraging to see lawmakers making progress in legalizing medical marijuana in Alabama,” said Karen O’Keefe, state policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “It is morally wrong to continue treating alabamans suffering from serious illnesses as criminals for using a substance that is now legal in 36 states. However, we urge lawmakers to revise the provisions of the bill that create significant barriers for patients and their doctors. “
Patients could buy and own up to “70 daily doses of medicinal cannabis”. The commission would set this limit, but it could not exceed 75 milligrams per dose. In addition, a gross income tax of nine percent is required on the sale of medical marijuana. With implementation costs covered, 60 percent of the proceeds would go to the state’s general fund and 30 percent to research into the medical potential of cannabis.
Patients, caregivers and medical cannabis companies would get legal protection under the proposal to prevent them from being penalized for state-approved activities. In order for doctors to recommend cannabis to their patients, they would have to complete a four-hour training course and pass an exam at the end. The course would cost over $ 500 and doctors would have to take refresher courses every two years. This is similar to Mississippi and why the program hurts there.
Under the law, regulators would have to develop restrictions on advertising and set quality control standards. Seed-to-sale tracking and laboratory testing would be mandatory. This is pretty normal as we see more of it every time a state passes a medical marijuana program.
Medical Marijauana Program launched in Alabama
Applications for licenses for the cannabis business would have to be accepted from September 1, 2022 and then processed within 60 days. For the first year of implementation, the Commission would have to approve at least four cultivators, up to four processors, up to four pharmacies (more could be approved after this point if necessary) and up to five vertically integrated operators.
Many of the provisions are in line with what the Senate approved in March 2020. Given the plethora of changes made in this Chamber’s last session, further changes could be proposed as the bill moves forward this year.
Medical and recreational marijuana lawyers and enthusiasts in Alabama
The reintroduction of this law was eagerly awaited by proponents. The Senate passed a separate medical cannabis bill in 2019, but it later seriously compromised the House. The enacted legislation did not legalize patient access. Rather, it would have set up a study commission to deal with the topic and make recommendations.
The commission came back with its report in December 2019, with members recommending legalizing medical marijuana. The Senate President voted against medicinal cannabis in 2020 but said he was open to pushing the issue again in the new session. Meanwhile, the House spokesman said, “If the bill comes and contains reasonable restrictions, I am open to at least debate it.”
There could be additional pressure on lawmakers to legalize it as voters in neighboring Mississippi approved an initiative to reform medical cannabis during the November election. Meanwhile, lawmakers in other traditionally conservative states like Kentucky and South Carolina are in a position to potentially promote medical cannabis this year as a number of other states are considering broader legalization of recreational marijuana.
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