After years of failed efforts, Alabama lawmakers agreed in early May on a bill to legalize medical cannabis. On Monday, Gov. Kay Ivey signed the bill into law.
“I’ve signed SB 46 pertaining to medical marijuana. I would like to thank Sen. Tim Melson & Rep. Mike Ball for their hard work over the last few years & their commitment to continue to work on this to ensure we have a productive, safe & responsible operation in AL,” Ivey tweeted.
Last year, Sen. Tim Melson introduced a medical cannabis bill that cleared the Senate before it died, as did many cannabis bills amid COVID-19 lockdowns. When Melson reintroduced medical cannabis this year as SB 46, the legislation quickly cleared the Senate, and went to the House, the real battleground for medical cannabis in Alabama this year.
There, in the first week of May, after hours of debate, testimony, and filibuster efforts, the bill passed 68-34. The bill returned to the Senate, as the House made amendments, where it swiftly passed.
Alabama currently allows for an affirmative defense for individuals found in possession of CBD oil, following the passage of a bill known as Leni’s Law, named for a young girl who uses the oil for seizures. Patients must prove medical use, and there is no legal way to obtain these products in the state.
Melson’s bill creates a more robust medical cannabis program, allowing patients who qualify with at least one of more than a dozen conditions to buy medical cannabis products from a state-legal shop. Though, the bill does not allow for smokable products, including vapes, which would make the state’s program among the most restrictive in the country.
Still, opposition to the bill remained strong, and primarily came down to fears that medical cannabis would put Alabama on a slippery slope to “recreational” use. Those in favor of the bill provided impassioned testimony about how cannabis has helped them or their loved ones through illness.
In March, during a House committee hearing on the bill, Melson addressed opponents’ broad concerns about cannabis, and said, “I agree with probably 60 percent of what you all said. The problem is, it’s apples and oranges. You’re talking about recreational and not medical.”
Alabama physicians are in favor of patient access to medical cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation. The University of Alabama at Birmingham recently released the results of a survey of members of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama (MASA) on what Alabama doctors think about medical cannabis legalization, and adult use legalization for “contrast.” The survey took place between February and April.
Of the 450 physicians who took part, results showed “strong support among Alabama physicians for medical cannabis legalization.” Nearly 70% of participants agreed with a statement about legalizing medical cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation, with 26% opposed. When it came to adult use cannabis, 43% of surveyed Alabama doctors reported support.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the governor’s signature. The previous headline, from May 7, was Alabama Lawmakers Pass Medical Cannabis Bill As Session Nears End.