News, Politics

Alabama Medical Cannabis Legalization Might Soon Be on the Horizon

March 30, 2021 10:30 am ET
Alabama Medical Cannabis Legalization Might Soon Be on the Horizon

Alabama isn’t a state that’s known for being friendly to cannabis. In fact, we recently reported on the fact that the state of Alabama has some of the harshest cannabis penalties in the nation—possession for personal use can land you a year in jail and a fine of up to six thousand dollars and distribution can get you up to twenty years in jail and fines of up to $30 thousand. In fact, the laws are so harsh that even possession of paraphernalia in Alabama can result in fines and jail time. This is one of the many reasons we advocate so hard for federal cannabis legalization. It’s easy to feel encouraged about the state of things generally when so many states are legalizing, even if it is a piecemeal approach. But that positivity means nothing to citizens of Alabama, who can’t get cannabis they might need for medical purposes and will face serious consequences if they try. For evidence of this, look no further than the story of Iraq War veteran Sean Worsely. Suffering from a traumatic brain injury and PTSD after his service, Worsely used medical cannabis to cope. In 2016, after being stopped by police for loud music, he was discovered to be in possession of cannabis and eventually sentenced to prison time.

Alabama’s History With Cannabis

Alabama has been trying to legalize medical cannabis for a while now. In 2012, the Alabama Medical Marijuana Patients Rights Act was introduced. It would have given access to cannabis to patients suffering from predefined severe conditions, with the approval of a physician. But the legislation stagnated and went through serious rewrites before eventually being reintroduced in 2015 as the Medical Marijuana Patient Safe Access Act. 

The new bill passed the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee nearly unanimously, but then it was blocked by Senator Jabo Waggoner, head of the Senate Rules Committee, who called it “bad legislation.” Recently, in 2019, a pair of bills were introduced with the intent of reducing the penalties assessed against people in possession of cannabis. Both bills have advanced, but they have not yet been signed into law.

Alabama’s New Compassion Act

Last month, a new bill, the Compassion Act, cleared the Alabama Senate passing with a 21-8 majority. The new bill allows doctors to recommend medical cannabis products for a variety of conditions, including anxiety, nausea, chronic pain, and sleep disorders. It also paves the way to establish and regulate the production and sale of medical cannabis. The bill would not allow raw plant material to be sold, nor would it permit the sale of any product that is smoked or vaped. Alabama’s medical cannabis would be made available in other forms, like edibles.

If Alabama’s House of Representatives passes the Compassion Act, the state will become the 37th in the country to legalize medical cannabis. However, there are some big hurdles yet to overcome. Alabama’s House of Representatives is where previous legislation regarding cannabis legalization has died. It’s not clear whether or not the House is ready to pass this new law, and if not, Alabama might have to keep waiting.

Senators who are also physicians are weighing in on the bill, hoping to give some insight, but they’re not in agreement. While some point to the fact that medical cannabis is a valid form of treatment that actually does help people, others insist that there are pathways to make prescription drugs available and that cannabis products aren’t following the traditional routes. They express concern that people would use this legislation as a loophole to help them obtain recreational cannabis. The decision is still pending. We hope to welcome Alabama to the legal cannabis party soon.

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