After years of failed efforts, Alabama lawmakers are one step away from passing a bill to legalize medical cannabis.
Last year, Sen. Tim Melson introduced a medical cannabis bill that cleared the Senate before it died, as did many cannabis bills amid COVID-19 lockdowns. When Melson reintroduced medical cannabis this year as SB 46, the legislation quickly cleared the Senate, and went to the House, the real battleground for medical cannabis in Alabama this year.
There, after hours of debate, testimony, and filibuster efforts that ran late into the evening Tuesday and resumed Thursday morning, the bill passed 68-34. Now, the bill returns to the Senate, as the House made amendments, with the session’s end just days away.
Alabama currently allows for an affirmative defense for individuals found in possession of CBD oil, following the passage of a bill known as Leni’s Law, named for a young girl who uses the oil for seizures. Patients must prove medical use, and there is no legal way to obtain these products in the state.
Melson’s bill would create a more robust medical cannabis program, allowing patients who qualify with at least one of more than a dozen conditions to buy medical cannabis products from a state-legal shop. Though, the bill does not allow for smokable products, including vapes, which would make the state’s program among the most restrictive in the country.
Still, opposition to the bill has been strong, and primarily came down to fears that medical cannabis would put Alabama on a slippery slope to “recreational” use. Those in favor of the bill provided impassioned testimony about how cannabis has helped them or their loved ones through illness.
In March, during a House committee hearing on the bill, Melson addressed opponents’ broad concerns about cannabis, and said, “I agree with probably 60 percent of what you all said. The problem is, it’s apples and oranges. You’re talking about recreational and not medical.”
Alabama physicians are in favor of patient access to medical cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation. Last week, the University of Alabama at Birmingham released the results of a survey of members of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama (MASA) on what Alabama doctors think about medical cannabis legalization, and adult use legalization for “contrast.” The survey took place between February and April.
Of the 450 physicians who took part, results showed “strong support among Alabama physicians for medical cannabis legalization.” Nearly 70% of participants agreed with a statement about legalizing medical cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation, with 26% opposed. When it came to adult use cannabis, 43% of surveyed Alabama doctors reported support.