Medical cannabis legislation was first introduced in the Alabama House of Representatives two decades ago. Eight years ago, it was the laughingstock of the lower chamber. Now, a medical cannabis bill has supermajority support.
After a nearly 10-hour filibuster Tuesday, House lawmakers reconvened Thursday and considered several floor amendments before passing the Senate-originated bill, 68-34, which would allow registered patients diagnosed with qualifying conditions to access cannabis. The legislation returned to the Senate for final consideration Thursday night, when the upper chamber voted, 20-9, to concur with the House changes.
The legislation, Senate Bill 46, now heads to Republican Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk. In a statement from Ivey’s office Thursday night, press secretary Gina Maiola said the governor looks forward to thoroughly reviewing the bill and providing the diligence it deserves, but did not say whether she would sign it.
If Ivey provides the ink, Alabama will become the 37th medical cannabis state, joining the likes of nearby Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, according to reform organization Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
“Passing the compassion act will allow seriously ill patients to finally get the relief they deserve,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at MPP. “Alabama is one of only 14 states in the country that continues to criminalize the medical use of cannabis, and while this bill is more restrictive than is ideal, it is a dramatic improvement from the status quo and would improve the lives of thousands of Alabamians. We urge … Gov. Ivey to sign it into law.”
The Alabama Senate has passed medical cannabis bills three years in a row, but this is the first time the House has passed legislation. Last year, pandemic-related circumstances derailed the lower chamber’s possibility of a vote.
Sponsored by Republican Sen. Tim Melson, S.B. 46 proposes implementing a medical program that would open the application process for potential patients by Sept. 1, 2022. Republican Rep. Mike Ball sponsored the bill in the House.
“When we get in politics, we get down here and we focus our attention on what it is we’re after; we tend to tunnel up and we don’t see the other side very well, and there’s so many aspects of this that has been so difficult,” Ball said on the House floor Thursday, after bearing the brunt of the filibuster, from opponents on his own side of the aisle, two days earlier.
“And, quite frankly, this has caused me to lose my appetite for politics in this whole process,” he said. “And the people who don’t see it, they’re not bad. They’re just not looking at it.”
Eight years earlier, a Democratic bill for medical cannabis that was introduced by former Rep. Patricia Todd won the 2013 “Shroud Award,” given to the “deadest” bill in the House that session, according to the Associated Press.
“They laughed at me,” Todd said, according to the AP. “I’m glad to see it passed. It’s long overdue.”
Final passage didn’t