Medical Cannabis Bill Filibustered on Alabama House Floor
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Medical Cannabis Bill Filibustered on Alabama House Floor

The stalled legislation is expected to return to the lower chamber on Thursday.

May 5, 2021

The Alabama Senate has passed medical cannabis bills three years in a row, but the state’s House of Representatives continued to stall those efforts late Tuesday night.

Republican opponents filibustered the Senate-passed legislation during nearly 10 hours of debate on the floor of the lower chamber, before the House adjourned shortly before midnight without a vote, according to the Associated Press. The House is scheduled to reconvene at 8 a.m. May 6, when the bill is expected to return to the chamber’s floor.  

Alabama’s Senate Bill 46, which was amended and cleared by two House committees last month, would allow registered patients diagnosed with a qualifying condition to access cannabis, making it the 37th medical cannabis state if passed, according to Marijuana Policy Project.

The Senate’s effort to enact medical cannabis laws collided with COVID-19 last year when pandemic-related circumstance derailed the possibility of a vote in the House. The House has until May 30 to act this year—when the state’s legislature adjourns out of session.

Sponsored by Republican Sen. Tim Melson, S.B. 46 proposes implementing a medical program that would open the application process for potential patients by Sept. 1, 2022.

In addition, the legislation would create an Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would determine the maximum daily dosages of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that caregivers could provide patients with each of more than a dozen qualifying conditions. Some of the conditions include: cancer, terminal illness, depression, epilepsy, anxiety or panic disorder, chronic pain, spasticity, autism, Tourette syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

The new commission would also be responsible for issuing up to five licenses for vertically integrated operators, at least four cultivation licenses, no more than four processor licenses and no more than four dispensary licenses. Businesses that are awarded those licenses could operate up to three sites in different counties, according to the Senate bill’s text.

Other housekeeping items the commission would be responsible for include overseeing the patient registry, issuing medical cards and outlining regulations from seed to sale.

The bill would prohibit the smoking or vaping of cannabis, as well as processing cannabis into a form that is attractive to or targets children, such as candy or baked goods. Instead, S.B. 46 would limit medical cannabis use to forms such as pills, oils, creams and topical patches.

Melson, an anesthesiologist who now works in medical research, said medical cannabis can provide relief to patients where other drugs have failed, adding, “It’s the last choice to be used by a doctor. So, if there is an illness where everything else has failed, why not let them try it,” as quoted by the AP.

Although Republican opponents filibustered the House’s effort to vote on the bill Tuesday, the lower chamber’s members voted, 69-31, to bring the legislation to the floor for debate with 45 Republicans in favor of the motion.

The Senate passed the bill, 21-8, in February. If the amended measure passes the House, it will have to go back to the Senate for final passage.