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Alabama Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill

The Alabama state Senate approved a bill to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana on Wednesday, after spending only about 15 minutes to debate the measure. The bill, SB46, was approved by a vote of 21 to 10. The legislation must also be passed by the Alabama House of Representatives and signed by Republican Gov. Kay Ivey to become law.

Under the measure, physicians would be permitted to recommend cannabis for their patients with one of more than a dozen serious medical conditions including seizures; spasticity associated with certain diseases or spinal cord injuries; anxiety or panic disorder; and terminal illnesses. Qualifying patients with a doctor’s recommendation would receive a medical marijuana identification card from the state.

The bill would also establish a state Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be tasked with issuing licenses for the cultivation, processing, distribution, transporting, lab testing, and dispensing of medical marijuana. The commission would also maintain a seed-to-sale tracking system to monitor the production, distribution, and sale of regulated cannabis products.

Smoking Weed Not Allowed

The medical marijuana products permitted by the measure are tightly controlled. Oral tablets and tinctures, topicals, transdermal patches, gummy cubes, lozenges, liquids for inhalers, and suppositories are specifically allowed. Herbal or smokable forms of cannabis and edibles such as baked goods and candies are not authorized by the act.

The Compassion Act, as SB46 is also known, was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tim Melson, a Republican who is also a medical researcher and anesthesiologist. He believes that existing evidence supports giving the residents of Alabama the right to choose medical marijuana products, particularly when more traditional treatments have not been successful.

“I was skeptical five years ago,” Melson said. “I started listening to patients instead of the biased people, and this is where we’re at today.”

Wednesday’s passage of the Compassion Act marks the third time the Senate has approved legislation legalizing the medical use of cannabis. The bill passed in March 2020, also introduced by Melson, is essentially the same as this year’s measure.

Opposition In The Alabama House Expected

Despite the repeated success of medical marijuana legalization bills in the Alabama Senate, members of the state’s House of Representatives have failed to approve the measures. But Melson believes things may be different this time around, even with expected opposition. Polling shows strong support for medical marijuana in Alabama, and the personal experiences of some lawmakers may help change minds.

“They had that family member that needs it,” Melson said. “Or they realize they have a friend or neighbor that needs it.”

Although the bill prevailed in the Senate, the vote was not unanimous. Another physician in the body, Republican Sen. Larry Stutts, voted against the Compassion Act. He said that cannabis products should not be considered “medical.”

“First, there’s no such thing as medical marijuana. It’s just marijuana,” Stutts said. “From a medical aspect, it’s just marijuana. And we have a process for products, for drugs, for medications to be approved, and we’re bypassing that entire process.”

Stutts added that the list of qualifying conditions, which includes maladies such as chronic pain and sleep disorders, is too broad and general.

“Anybody that wanted marijuana could get a cannabis card and can qualify for one of these medical conditions and get it,” he said. “So, it’s a backdoor way of saying we’re going to increase the availability of marijuana.”

But Melson said that is not the intent of the bill.

“I’m not a recreational marijuana person,” Melson said. “I don’t want that in this state. I just want the patients who need it to have it.”

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