Alabama says 'yes' to medical marijuana, but with a catch
In early May, Alabama's overwhelmingly conservative legislature passed Senate Bill 46, legalizing medical marijuana. Last Monday, Republican Governor Kay Ivey signed the legislation into law, making Alabama the 36th state to legalize the controversial plant for medicinal use.
While many states allow for the purchase and consumption of marijuana in edible, smoke-able, and vaporize-able forms, Alabama's new law does not. Instead, residents of the Yellowhammer state will face a strictly regulated market that only allows citizens to legally use cannabis-derived tinctures, topicals, oral tablets, transdermal patches, gummies, lozenges, inhaleable liquid cartridges, and suppositories.
Spanning eighty-seven pages in its final form, SB46, now called The Darren Wesley “Ato” Hall Compassion Act, passed the Alabama Senate on a 20 to 9 vote in February and the House on a 68 to 34 vote earlier this month. The Compassion Act is named after Rep. Laura Hall's, D-Mobile), son, Darren Wesley Hall, who died after contracting AIDS. Medical marijuana has been proven to effectively treat some of the symptoms associated with HIV/AIDS.
The new law was sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, and state Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, carried the bill in the Alabama House of Representatives. In addition to defining the scope of maladies that will qualify residents to access medical cannabis, the legislation also establishes the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission which will be the regulatory authority for medical marijuana in the state. Applicants will be able to apply for usage licenses on or before September 1, 2022.
Notably, Alabama's Black lawmakers were vital and vocal supporters of the Darren Hall Compassion Act. Many of them spoke in favor of the legislation, taking to the podium to express support for the new law and criticism surrounding the ways that drug laws have disproportionately impacted communities of color.
On April 20—an unofficial global holiday celebrating marijuana—Alabama's Demoratic Party announced its support for medical cannabis in the state. Representative Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, the first Black chair of the Alabama Democratic Party, has been a consistent advocate for justice with regard to how communities of color are treated by the law.
“Nearly 100 years of marijuana prohibition and criminalization has trapped thousands of Alabamians, mostly Black, in our broken criminal justice system,” said England in reference to the bill. “Reforming policy surrounding cannabis not only serves our state in producing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues, but is an important step in reducing arrests and expunging records. Nobody should be sitting in jail for carrying a little bit of weed.”
The law allows the use of medical cannabis for autism spectrum disorder; cancer-related weight loss, nausea, vomiting and pain; Crohn's Disease; depression; epilepsy or a condition causing seizures; HIV/AIDS-related weight loss or nausea; panic disorder; Parkinson's Disease; post-traumatic stress disorder; sickle-cell anemia; spinal cord injuries; terminal illnesses; Tourette's Syndrome, and chronic or intractable pain that is unresponsive to conventional or opiate therapy.
Under the legislation, up to 12 dispensaries will be allowed in the state. Senator Melson and Representative Ball have speculated that qualifying patients could receive medical marijuana access as early as fall of 2022.