The Alabama Senate on Thursday voted in favor of legislation that would legalize medical marijuana in the state of Alabama. Senate Bill 46 is sponsored by state Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, who sponsored the same bill last year before the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to the 2020 Legislative Session.
“You must have a qualifying medical condition,” Melson said. “It protects employers, it allows no raw material or vaping and there are strict limits on packaging so that it does not look attractive to kids, and it imposes a sales tax con it.”
The bill was already considered the most restrictive medical marijuana bill in the country, but it was further amended on the floor of the Senate by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur.
Melson accepted Orr’s lengthy amendment, which includes provisions to outlaw sugar coatings on the cannabis product and set the maximum initial dosage of cannabis at 50 milligrams. You can go up to 75 milligrams after 90 days.
“I am not persuaded yet, but this makes it more palatable,” Orr said.
Orr still voted against the final passage of the bill.
“I appreciate his working with me in the offseason,” Orr said of Melson. “He did push back and did not give me everything I wanted.”
“I appreciate him working with me,” Melson said of Orr. “It is a safer bill”
Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, also offered his own amendment on the Senate floor. Singleton’s amendment added sickle cell anemia to the list of conditions medical conditions.
“It is a very horrible condition, and very painful,” Singleton said of the genetic disease which affects approximately 100,000 Americans, 90 percent of them of African descent.
Melson said that almost all of the sickle cell patients are on Medicaid, so if medical marijuana can provide those patients with relief “that is a saving for the state in the long run.”
Melson accepted the Singleton amendment. The Senate passed SB46 as amended 21 to 10, with virtually no debate once the two amendments were adopted.
“I want the people who need it to get it,” Melson told reporters afterward.
“We need to give it a try,” Melson said. “As Dr. (Alan) Shackleford in Colorado said, It is not a miracle drug, but it can do miracles.”
Melson said that where medical marijuana has been legalized there is evidence that opioid use is decreasing. Melson said that there is no dosage cap on patients with a terminal illness.
“We just want to try to make those patients as comfortable as possible,” he said.
Melson said that he agreed with Orr’s amendment barring a sugar coating, but would not agree to ban all flavored coating.
“They say that is a very bitter product,” Melson said of the raw pill form of cannabis.
Melson said he refused to meet with anybody in the industry, including growers and people who want to operate dispensaries.
“I did not want to be accused of being influenced,” he said.
Melson acknowledged that some people will make money off of this, but that was never his concern.
“I am a medical researcher,” Melson said. Melson is an anesthesiologist who works in medical research. “Five years ago I was dead set opposed this, but then I started listening to the people who say that they benefited from it and not the people who just want to ban it.”
Melson said that the medical research is clear that cannabis does have medical benefits for a number of conditions.
Melson said that Attorney General Steve Marshall, who opposed the bill last year, has not talked to him about the bill.
“I wish he had discussed it,” Melson said. “I respect what he does. He is a good attorney general.”
Melson predicted that the state “will loosen up” some of the restrictions in the bill in the future.
“Pharmacies will be involved eventually,” he said. “I am not for recreational marijuana.”
Some out-of-state companies in the medical marijuana business have said that SB46 restrictive, and they won’t come to Alabama under those restrictions.
“If they won’t come here, I am fine with that,” Melson said.
Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Sheffield, was one of the eight senators who voted against SB46.
“There are several concerns,” Stutts said. “I agree with the surgeon general there is no medical marijuana it is just marijuana.”
“We are bypassing that entire process we have for approving a new drug,” Stutts said. “We are bypassing the whole network of pharmacies that we have established to prescribe and distribute drugs.”
“As a doctor, I have concerns about the safety of this,” Stutts said. “As a small-government conservative, I have problems creating a commission with eleven people and giving them total power to decide who gets to own dispensaries and controlling who gets to grow it.”
“There are four drugs that have THC in them that have already been approved by the FDA that are available if you need it,” Stutts said.
Stutts said that he had issues with the list of qualifying medical conditions in the bill.
“That list is so broad and general that anybody in this room will be able to qualify for it,” Stutts said. “PMS, backpain, chronic pain, depression, chromes disease? This is just a backdoor way to get marijuana in the state.”
“I can cite and equal amount of medical literature showing that cannabis is ineffective or has negative side effects,” Stutts said.
“It is not effective for nausea in pregnancy and is harmful to the baby,” Stutts said.
“I was very disappointed that we passed it out of this body before even having any debate,” Stutts said.
“We were given only an hour warning that this would be on the agenda today,” Stutts said. “We passed it with basically zero debate, they were still debating the amendments when I stepped out briefly to go get my notes. When I got back they were already doing the rollcall for final passage.”
“This will fundamentally transform the state,” Stutts warned. “More people are going to use it and there is going to be more of it out there.”
The THC in marijuana today is several times higher than it was in the 60s and 70s,” Stutts warned. “A lot of that was three percent THC today’s marijuana is 70 percent THC.”
Stutts was asked if there was any need for this given that there is CBD and hemp products now available all over the state after that was legalized in the Farm Bill.
“I am not sure of the effectiveness of this,” he said.
“When they do medical research a double blind trial is used. Half are given the new drug and half are given the placebo. Typically 30 percent of the placebo group say that the drug is working for them,” Stutts explained. “There has not been enough research on this. We are circumventing the process that the FDA uses.
Stutts said that he has gotten a lot of contact from people in favor of the legislation but most of it was from out of state and out of the district.
This is the third year in a row that Melson’s medical marijuana bill has passed the Alabama Senate. It now goes to the House of Representatives, where it has never even gotten out of committee.
Melson was optimistic about his chances this year.
“Many of them (in the House) have family and friends who have used it,” Melson said. “I think they are going to listen to their family and friends who need it.”
The Alabama Senate will meet on Thursday for day nine of the 2021 Legislative Session.