Alabama lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to advance legislation that would legalize medical cannabis use and sales.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-1 in favor of passing the bill out of committee and to the full Senate floor; there was one abstention. The bill, if signed, would allow patients with qualifying conditions like cancer or epilepsy to purchase non-smokeable, non-vape products from licensed and regulated shops. The bill would also create the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission as the regulatory body issuing licenses, for example, for everything from dispensaries and growers to labs.
Alabama lawmakers established the Medical Cannabis Study Commission in early 2019, which in December released a report that recommended medical cannabis legalization.
The hearing, which lasted about an hour, turned at times emotional. Cynthia Atkinson spoke about her husband, well-known Alabama meteorologist Dan Atkinson, who had Parkinson’s disease for the last 10 years of his life. Dan Atkinson, who his wife said was also an ordained Methodist minister, died in 2017 at 71 years of age.
“He suffered greatly with pain. His legs,” Cynthia Atkinson said during the hearing, “he would tell the doctors, would be as if they were in vice grips, the muscle cramps and the twisting of his legs. First it was at night and then it became 24/7.”
When the pain became too much, even with powerful painkillers like Oxycontin, the couple went to Colorado in 2015 to try a cannabis patch.
“His legs relaxed for over a week, to almost two weeks. We kept him on the patches. When the patches began to dissipate, he began to get the cramping again. He couldn’t sleep at night when he was not on the patches. With patches on, he slept through the night, the cramping dissipated. So, this is what we know for a fact that we experienced,” Atkinson said. The couple talked about bringing the patches back, but it was illegal, so they continued with the prescription medications available.
“I have to be very honest with you. I’ve prayed a lot because this is obviously a highly controversial subject,” Atkinson said, adding that her husband wanted to speak to the governor and lawmakers about medical cannabis, but died before he could. “I just plead with you for people of the state of Alabama, so that they don’t have to move to Colorado because their children are sick.”
Senator Larry Stutts outlined that medical cannabis generally falls outside of the Food and Drug Administration approval process.
“We’re circumventing part of that process by saying this is ‘medical’ marijuana. And I take exception to that statement because there’s no other drug that we have to put the adjective ‘medical’ in front of it to make it sound medical,” Stutts said during the hearing.
Stutts also took issue with the number of conditions for which patients could qualify to participate in the medical cannabis program, which includes, for example, anxiety.
“Basically, anyone that really wants to qualify for it can qualify for it,” Stutts said. “Anxiety, fibromyalgia, things that are broad general categories. You’re going to qualify an awful lot of people.” Stutts continued, “So I guess my point there is the process is going to make it more available in society.”
Amy Young, the mother of a young girl with seizures named Leni, pushed for the Alabama bill that legalized CBD oil after she was forced to move to Oregon for access to the product. The bill became known as Leni’s Law.
Young told Cannabis Wire that she was “appreciative” of the committee members “who took the time to give thoughtful consideration to the medical cannabis bill,” adding that she thought Senator Will Barfoot “said it best when he described the bill as a ‘perfect balance’ for Alabama. I’m hopeful that access to medical cannabis will be a reality in the near future.”