Medical marijuana advances in Alabama Senate

A bill to regulate the production, sales and use of medical marijuana passed the Alabama Senate by a vote of 21-8. Dist. 8 Sen. Steve Livingston and Dist. 10 Sen. Andrew Jones, both of whom represent DeKalb County, voted to pass the bill.

Senate Bill 46 sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, is called the “Compassion Act.” It would allow doctors to recommend medical cannabis products for anxiety or panic disorder; autism; nausea and weight loss caused by cancer or HIV; seizures; fibromyalgia; Crohn’s disease; post traumatic stress disorder; menopause or premenstrual symptoms; sleep disorders; spasticity associated with certain diseases or spinal cord injuries; a terminal illness; Tourette’s Syndrome; and chronic pain. Melson is a medical researcher and anesthesiologist.

The same bill passed the previous two years but stalled in the House of Representatives. It is pending action in the House Judiciary Committee.

Livingston issued a comment through the Jackson County Legislative Office, saying he voted in favor of the bill because it would provide relief for those who suffer from a broad range of medical conditions, similar to Carley’s Law, adopted in 2015 to permit marijuana-derived medication for treating severe seizures, and Leni’s Law, passed in 2016 to permit seizure treatments containing cannabidiol, or CBD, that is derived from the hemp plant, a cousin of the marijuana plant that does not cause a “high”.

He explained “SB 46 would not allow patients to smoke marijuana, but [it] would allow forms including pills, oils, patches, nebulizers and inhalers. If the use of medical marijuana can assist a child having multiple seizures per day or provide some relief for a cancer patient, how can I be a no vote? At this point it becomes a quality-of-life issue for those needlessly suffering when there is an antidote to the problem, I see no harm as long as there are regulations in place and those that truly need access have it.”

Jones said he supported the bill because it can potentially provide benefits for constituents suffering from terminal cancer or epilepsy.

“It’s the most conservative medical marijuana legislation in the country, setting limited conditions,” Jones said. “You couldn’t smoke or vape marijuana.”

Twenty-five years after California voters approved the use of medical marijuana, a total of 36 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have approved comprehensive, publicly available medical marijuana/cannabis programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Last fall, voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota approved measures to regulate cannabis for adult-use, all South Dakota’s measure was challenged in court and overturned. There are already university degree programs at Alabama universities to support professions emerging in the growing cannabis industry in other states.

At the federal level, marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, making distribution a federal offense. The U.S. Department of Justice under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed U.S. attorneys to weigh all relevant considerations when deciding whether to prosecute people who distribute marijuana for medical purposes in accordance with their state law.

Melson’s bill would set up a 9% sales tax on medical cannabis products and would impose license fees. The money would go into a Medical Cannabis Commission fund. It would be used to cover the costs of regulating the program. Most of any remaining money would go to the state General Fund and a consortium of Alabama universities for medical cannabis research.

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