The medical cannabis law was first introduced in the Alabama House of Representatives two decades ago. Eight years ago it was the mockery of the lower chamber. Now a bill for medical cannabis has majority support.
After a nearly 10-hour filibuster Tuesday, House lawmakers gathered again Thursday and considered several changes before passing Senate-passed Law 68-34 that would allow registered patients diagnosed with qualified conditions to have access to cannabis would allow. Legislation returned to the Senate for final scrutiny Thursday evening when the upper chamber voted 20-9 to approve the House’s changes.
The legislation, Senate Bill 46, now goes to Republican Governor Kay Ivey’s desk. In a statement from Ivey’s office Thursday evening, press secretary Gina Maiola said the governor looked forward to thoroughly examining the bill and showing due diligence, but did not say whether she would sign it.
If Ivey provides the ink, Alabama will become the 37th medical cannabis state to join nearby Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi, according to the reform organization Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
“With the passage of the Compassionate Act, critically ill patients can finally get the relief they deserve,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of government at MPP. “Alabama is one of only 14 states in the country that continues to criminalize the medicinal use of cannabis. This bill, while more restrictive than ideal, represents a dramatic improvement on the status quo and would improve the lives of thousands of Alabamians. We’re asking … Governor Ivey to sign the law. “
The Alabama Senate has passed medical cannabis laws for three years in a row, but this is the first time the House has passed laws. In the past year, pandemic-related circumstances have affected the ability to vote in the lower chamber.
Sponsored by Republican Senator Tim Melson, SB 46 proposes implementing a medical program that opens the application process for potential patients by September 1, 2022. Republican MP Mike Ball sponsored the bill in the House.
“When we get into politics, we come here and focus our attention on what we’re looking for. We tend to tunnel and we don’t see the other side very well and there are so many aspects that were so difficult, ”Ball said on the floor of the house on Thursday after taking the brunt of the filibuster from the opponents had his own side of the aisle two days earlier.
“And frankly, this has resulted in my losing my appetite for politics in the whole process,” he said. “And the people who don’t see it aren’t bad. You just don’t look at it. “
Eight years earlier, a Democratic medical cannabis bill introduced by former MP Patricia Todd won the 2013 “Shroud Prize,” which, according to the Associated Press, was awarded to the House’s “deadliest” bill at that session.
“They laughed at me,” said Todd, according to the AP. “I’m glad to see it’s over. It’s long overdue. ”
The last passage did not come without almost three more hours of debate and amendments on Thursday. Democratic MP Laura Hall, 78, said she first introduced medical cannabis legislation in the house two decades ago.
“Twenty years ago I brought [legislation to the House] in honor of my son who died of AIDS just a year before I was elected, ”Hall said. “And I did that with the idea of whether I could have had access [to medical cannabis]. The only drug available to him was a drug called AZT. He couldn’t stand that. When he took this drug, we had to get up every four hours – that was the schedule for giving him the drug. And finally he had said: “Enough is enough. I can get my T cells back and I can function, but I can’t do it with this drug. ‘”
Azidothymidine (AZT) is an antiretroviral drug used to prevent and treat HIV / AIDS.
Later during Thursday’s session of the House, the House voted 87-3 to rename the law the Darren Wesley ‘Ato’ Hall Compassion Act ‘in tribute to Rep. Hall’s son.
While HIV / AIDS-related nausea or weight loss is one of more than a dozen qualifying conditions included in Alabama’s Medical Cannabis Bill, two other conditions in the original Senate bill were introduced during an emending trial in House Health Committee eliminated – fibromyalgia and menopause or premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
This specific amendment was merged with several other amendments from the committee into a package which was passed as a single vote in the House on Thursday (72-26).
“This amendment is so disappointing for me as a woman that all issues that affect women specifically have been dealt with in the Health Committee, which is why I will be voting against this amendment,” said Democratic MP Merika Coleman. “I support [Rep. Ball] and support the concept, but this body is so disappointing at times. “
When effective, SB 46 would set up a 14-person Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to set the maximum daily dose of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that caregivers would make available to patients with any of the qualifying conditions – including cancer, terminal illness, depression, epilepsy Anxiety or panic disorder, chronic pain, spasticity, autism, Tourette’s syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder and others.
The new commission would also be responsible for issuing up to five licenses for vertically integrated operators, up to 12 cultivation licenses, no more than four processor licenses and no more than four dispenser licenses. Companies that were granted the dispenser licenses could operate up to three locations in different counties, while vertically integrated operators could have up to five dispenser locations in different counties according to the legal text.
Other household items for which the Commission would be responsible are monitoring the patient register, issuing health cards and setting rules from seed to sale.
Some changes that were rejected on the floor of the house were the addition of a 10 milligrams THC dose cap, the introduction of a zero tolerance policy for diving under the influence, and the review of the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission’s authority to nurse Grant the right to distribute medical cannabis if it does. The federal government is re-planning cannabis so that patients can get their medical cannabis from pharmacies instead if the federal ban ends.
“My concern in this issue is that if we can get this big bureaucracy we have, this big body that will be there, that it will never go away,” said Republican MP Matt Simpson of the senior arm of the commission. “And you could have 49 other states that can get medical marijuana through a licensed pharmacist … but the state of Alabama would have to go through those pharmacies based on your legislation.”
In the meantime, the bill would prohibit smoking or vaping cannabis, as well as processing cannabis in a form that is attractive to or aimed at children, such as candy or baked goods. Instead, SB 46 would limit medicinal cannabis use to forms such as pills, gelatin cubes, oils, creams, and topical patches. The patients could have up to 70 daily doses of cannabis.
In addition, minors could not use or recommend more than 3% THC. And employers could still do drug tests and prohibit workers from using cannabis.
In terms of social justice, depending on the type of business, at least a quarter or a fifth of all licenses are to be given to companies that are at least 51% owned by Afro-American, Native American, Asian or Spanish descent to MPP.