Alabama Senate Committee passes medical cannabis bill

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Alabama residents could soon be obtaining medical cannabis prescriptions. On Wednesday, February 19, the Alabama Senate committee approved a bill to legalize the plant for medical use. Senate members passed the bill in an 8-1 vote with one abstention. It will now progress to the Senate floor.

Sponsored and introduced by the Republican senator Tim Melson, R-Florence prior to the committee’s approval, “The Compassion Act” would enable specific state residents to apply for a medical cannabis card. This card would authorize patients to get a prescription for medical cannabis; so long as they are diagnosed with a qualifying condition. 

Under Alabama’s existing law, anyone who is caught in possession of cannabis in the first degree must deal with the repercussions of committing a Class C or Class D felony (punishable by 1-10 years in prison.) Unlawful possession of the plant in the second degree is considered a Class A misdemeanor (punishable by up to one year imprisonment.)

Whether or not the House will choose to adopt Alabama’s medical cannabis bill remains uncertain. On the other hand, Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), has revealed that he is in “wait and see mode.”

“It brings up a legal question when you get a legal opinion from the attorney general office,” McCutcheon said. “It answers some of my questions and also on the pro and the con there were some questions raised in the legal community.”

An overview of Alabama’s medical cannabis bill

Strict regulations will be imposed on medical cannabis in Alabama as part of the newly approved bill. In particular, tighter regulations will be introduced for cultivation and sale of the plant in its medicinal form.

Farmers based in the state of Alabama would be granted the opportunity to cultivate pharmaceutical-grade plants to be sold inside licensed dispensaries. Although patients will not be able to get their hands on vaping and smokable cannabis products just yet, topical solutions, tablets and edibles will be permitted.

Only when someone is diagnosed with a qualifying condition will they be able to receive medical cannabis in Alabama. Currently, the proposal contains 15 qualifying conditions; including autism, chronic pain, cancer-related cachexia, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy and HIV/AIDS.

Commission to be established under Alabama’s medical cannabis law

All medical cannabis sales in Alabama would be subject to a nine percent tax charge; of which will be used to establish and run the Alabama Medical Marijuana Commission. The Medical marijuana Commission that is set to be launched as part of the state’s new medical cannabis law will be in charge of providing oversight for the industry. 

Some of the duties that will be required of the commission include managing patient registry, issuing cultivation licenses and dispensing the plant to registered patients. Any restrictions on licensing activities will be imposed by the commission. 

This isn’t the first time that Melson has introduced a medical cannabis legalization bill. The politician and physician sponsored a proposal in 2019 that contained very similar language to this year’s proposal. Unfortunately, after being given a thumbs-up by the Senate, last year’s bill died in the House.

Despite Melson’s misfortune last year, his efforts spurred on the development of Alabama’s Medical Cannabis Study Commission. Melson assumes the role of chairman for the commission, which voted to recommend legislation late last year.

In the event that Alabama’s medical cannabis bill is enacted into law, the state would go down in history as the 34th U.S. state to legalize the plant for medicinal use.