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Alabama Senate committee approves medical marijuana, COVID-19 liability bills

The committee approved bills that would provide COVID-related liability protections for businesses and authorize medical marijuana.

A scientist examines a cannabis plant. STOCK

The Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee has moved forward a bill that would provide protections to businesses that could shield them from COVID-19 litigation under certain conditions and another that would authorize medical marijuana.

COVID liability protections

Republican state Sen. Arthur Orr’s legislation, Senate Bill 30, would only protect businesses, health care providers, educational entities, churches, governmental entities and cultural institutions from civil lawsuits if those businesses follow proper protocols regarding masks and social distancing. 

Orr has said his bill would not protect businesses from lawsuits if they fail to follow CDC and Alabama Department of Public Health guidelines to keep employees safe. 

The state Legislature is taking precautions this session to mitigate the dangers of COVID-19, so in-person access has been severely limited for the press and the public. House and Senate chambers and committee rooms are to be streamed during meetings on the Legislature’s website, but the video of Wednesday’s hearing started more than 30 minutes after the meeting began, and an echo in the audio, once the video finally started, prevented a clear understanding of what was being said in most instances.

Several senators did express concerns about the legislation, but the audio was insufficient to clearly understand what was being said. Orr’s bill was approved in a 9-2 vote. 

Medical marijuana legislation

Committee members then took up SB46, a medical marijuana bill introduced by Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence. It’s the same bill Melson filed last year, which ended up passing the Senate but failing to make it through the state House. 

The legislation would create a Medical Cannabis Commission that would regulate and license growers, processors and sellers. 

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“So nice to not have a controversial bill like the last one,” Meslon said, referring to the COVID-19 litigation bill. 

Melson said this year’s bill is the same as last year, but with the addition of amendments introduced by the committee on the Senate floor during last year’s session. 

Orr asked Melson about how the bill would address taxing medical marijuana, and whether the legislation would be “low-balling” such a tax, compared to other states with similar laws. 

Melson said he was unsure of the tax rates in other states with medical marijuana, but his bill does issue taxation in order to pay for the Medical Cannabis Commission and the cost regulating medical marijuana. 

Melson’s bill passed out of committee by an 8-3 vote after the brief discussion.

Approval by the Judiciary Committee is just the first step in these bills becoming law. Next, the full Senate will need to take up the bills on the chamber floor, where they could be amended, passed as-is or voted down. If approved, the legislation would head to the House. For any legislation to become law, it must be approved by both chambers and signed by the governor.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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