A bill introduced last week by Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence) that would authorize the use of marijuana to treat certain medical conditions just passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by an 8-1 vote (with one abstention). The legislation has already received a stamp of approval from a state commission that the Alabama Legislature created last year to study medical marijuana after Sen. Melson introduced a similar proposal. This year’s version is based on laws that are on the books in some other states that have already legalized medical marijuana.
This year’s bill, SB165, provides a highly regulated framework by which medical marijuana would be made available to patients through the creation of an Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission. Patients would be required to obtain a medical marijuana card from a doctor who would have had to meet certain qualifications to prescribe marijuana. Physicians would be required to certify that a patient suffered from a qualifying medical condition such as nausea from cancer or HIV, seizures, autism, PTSD, anxiety disorder, sleep disorders, or conditions causing chronic pain, and both inventory and patients would be electronically tracked. Interestingly, both smokable and vaping products would remain illegal, and authorized products would have to be made in Alabama and would be taxed at 9%. A portion of the revenue would support the operation of the program, and a Medical Cannabis Research Fund would also be established. The Senate Judiciary Committee added three amendments to the bill by voice vote. The first amendment would prevent workers injured on the job while impaired from medical marijuana from receiving workers’ compensation, and the second would provide civil immunity to doctors who make a good faith effort to provide marijuana to patients. The third amendment would require Medical Cannabis Commission members to represent agricultural interests.
Medical marijuana remains a controversial topic in Alabama, and there is sure to be considerable debate around the bill. Now that the Judiciary Committee has approved the legislation, it will move on to the full Senate, where it seems to have strong support. The House, where last year’s legislation stalled, looks to be taking a “wait and see” approach.
We will continue to monitor SB165 as it is considered by the Legislature. If you have questions about the status of this legislation or the rapidly changing legal landscape for marijuana in the United States, you should contact an attorney with experience in this emerging area of law.