The Alabama House of Representatives voted to legalize medical marijuana on Thursday. After 11 hours of debate, the House passed Senate Bill 46 by a vote of 68 to 34. The Senate then voted to concur with the bill Thursday night.
SB46 was sponsored by state Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, and carried in the House by state Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison. The bill creates the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which will license and regulate a limited number of marijuana growers, dispensaries, processors and integrated facilities authorized to grow, process and dispense medical cannabis.
Persons with a qualifying medical need will be able to obtain an Alabama medical cannabis card from a specially trained doctor who is licensed to recommend the treatment. The product will not be sold in its raw plant form, but rather in a processed form with a consistent dosage. There will be no smokable product lawfully sold, and Alabama’s dispensaries will not honor medical cannabis cards from other states.
Conservatives had attempted a filibuster of the legislation that dragged out the process for nearly 12 hours. The House replaced the version of SB46 with a substitute prepared by the House Judiciary Committee. A 10-page amendment to the bill was prepared by the House Health Committee and also added to the bill. Some floor amendments were added to the bill, including one renaming the bill for Democratic state Rep. Laura Hall’s son who died from AIDS after stopping his AZT treatments. Hall introduced a medical marijuana bill after the death of her son.
“This might be why I was sent down here,” said Ball. “I kind of got sucked into it initially.”
Ball was the sponsor of Carly’s Law and Leni’s Law, as well.
“So many people unrelated to me came out of the woodwork,” Ball said of the people who helped him pass marijuana legislation. “The right people came to me.”
“This is a model for how medical cannabis should be dealt with in a state that has no desire to pass recreational,” Ball said.
“This bill won the shroud award in 2013,” Ball said. “I knew there was so much preconceived bias.”
“People are suffering,” Ball said. “Every year that we delay, there are more and more people who are suffering. We have another year before this gets started up.”
Ball said that they have got to appoint the Alabama Medical Commission and have them confirmed by the governor, and then the commission would have to do the licensing and the regulations. A reporter asked Ball if there will be a bill in an upcoming session to legalize recreational marijuana.
“That is for another day and another time,” Ball said.
“We made history today,” said Chey Garrigan, executive director of the Alabama Cannabis Industry Association. “We came together: whether black or white, whether Republican or Democrat. This is not a partisan issue or a racial issue. This is a health issue. We estimate about 20,000 Alabamians will end up using medical cannabis to alleviate disease symptoms. We urge Governor Kay Ivey to sign this bill soon.”
The bill passed the House after a very lengthy debate.
“Some of the opponents brought up valid issues during the debate,” said Garrigan. “I look forward to working with them and those who voted for it to improve the law in the future.”
“Passing the Compassion Act will allow seriously ill patients to finally get the relief they deserve,” said the director of the Marijuana Policy Project Karen O’Keefe. “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 the Senate to swiftly concur with the modified bill, and Gov. Ivey to sign it into law.”
“Thank you to Alabama Senator Tim Melson and Alabama House Rep. Mike Ball for their courage and tenacity to take on the Alabama Legislature on this extremely controversial topic here in Alabama,” said Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition President Marty Schelper. “Alabama Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition and the citizens of the State of Alabama cannot thank you enough. Both of you are our choice for the ALRAMP Cannabis Advocates of the Year 2021. At times I’m sure this has seemed like an impossible task. At times I’m sure it has been a lonely road but both of you have fought hard for the sick suffering and dying citizens of Alabama. We truly do appreciate both of you.”
Thursday night the Alabama Senate voted 30 to 9 to concur with the changes to SB46 made by the House earlier in the day. Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Sheffield, vigorously spoke in opposition to concurrence.
“I truly feel this is transformational for our state,” Stutts said. “This is a first step toward more widespread use and frankly I think this is a step towards recreational.”
“Overall, this is going to make this more readily available in our state and widespread,” Stutts said. “This tells teenagers that this is safe, and this is medical, and I don’t believe that is true.”
“I think that the bottom line is that it is marijuana, and we are legitimizing it,” Stutts continued. “The list of qualifying conditions is so broad that everyone in this room could qualify for a medical cannabis card.”
Ron Crumpton led marijuana legalization efforts in Montgomery years earlier.
“It’s a big step, but it is a first step,” Crumpton said. “More has to be done.”
Crumpton thought that the bill would make marijuana so expensive that poor people would not be able to access it. He also thought that there needed to be more flexibility.
“There are different strains (of marijuana),” Crumpton said. “Some strains don’t help some people, but other strains do.”
“This is not a perfect bill,” Ball acknowledged.
“Next session, there will be a bill to tweak it.” Ball said. “It might be positive; it might be negative.”
“Our work continues; there’s much more to do,” said Garrigan. “But today we celebrate for the people of Alabama.”
SB46 now goes to the governor for her consideration. Thursday was day 29 of the 2021 Legislative Session.