Alabama is one of the few US states that continues to prohibit cannabis in any form, but one Republican state senator has been working hard to change that sad fact for the better.
Last year, Alabama state Senator Tim Melson introduced the Alabama Compassion Act (SB 46), a bill that would legalize medical cannabis for patients suffering from specific qualifying conditions. The state Senate approved the bill last March, but once the pandemic hit, the state House decided that medical pot was no longer a top priority.
This year, Melson reintroduced the bill, and advocates are hopeful that it will finally succeed. If passed, the legislation would create an 11-member medical cannabis commission, which would be tasked with drafting regulations and overseeing business licensing. The bill would make medical pot available to patients suffering from a handful of qualifying conditions, including PTSD, chronic pain, anxiety, epilepsy, and cancer-related pain or nausea.
As far as medical marijuana bills go, Melson's bill is still pretty conservative. Cannabis flower would remain strictly prohibited, preventing patients from smoking or vaping their medicine. Patients would be allowed to use cannabis capsules, lozenges, oils, suppositories, or topical patches, but edibles in the form of candies or baked goods would be prohibited. Each patient would be limited to 70 daily doses of medical pot, and each of these individual doses would be limited to 75 milligrams of cannabinoid content.
Sales of medical pot products would be hit with a nine percent gross sales tax, most of which would go to cover the costs of implementing and regulating the program. Sixty percent of the leftover revenue would go to the state's general fund, and another 30 percent would fund medical marijuana research.
SB 46 would also offer legal protections to doctors, caregivers, and patients who participate in the program. But doctors who wish to recommend medical pot to patients would be required to complete a four-hour training course, at a cost of at least $500, and would also have to take refresher classes every two years.
Although this limited bill is better than nothing, advocates are not particularly excited by the excessive limitations of the proposal. Notably, the bill only allows doctors to recommend medical cannabis to chronic pain patients who are already using addictive opioid pharmaceuticals to treat their symptoms.
“While it’s encouraging to see Alabama seriously considering medical cannabis legislation, we recommend a number of revisions to SB 46 to better serve patients,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, to Marijuana Moment. “For example, patients should not be steered to far more dangerous opiates first, as the bill currently does. In addition, the burden on doctors should be reduced to avoid dramatically depressing participation and leaving large numbers of patients behind.”
The bill has a good shot of passing the state Senate, considering the fact that it also passed last year. The House has proved to be far less receptive to cannabis reform, but the House speaker said that he is at least open to debating the bill if “it has proper restrictions in it,” Marijuana Moment reports.