Republican Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama signed a bill on Monday that legalizes the medicinal use of cannabis in the state. The measure, Senate Bill 46, was passed by the Alabama House of Representatives earlier this month after being approved by the state Senate in February. The Alabama medical marijuana legalization measure goes into effect immediately, although providers will have to be licensed by the state before legal medicinal cannabis sales begin.
“This is certainly a sensitive and emotional issue and something that is continually being studied,” Ivey said in a statement about the legislation. “On the state level, we have had a study group that has looked closely at this issue, and I am interested in the potential good medical cannabis can have for those with chronic illnesses or what it can do to improve the quality of life of those in their final days.”
Under the newly signed Alabama medical marijuana bill, doctors are now permitted to recommend cannabis for their patients with one of about a dozen serious medical conditions including seizures; spasticity associated with certain diseases or spinal cord injuries; anxiety or panic disorder; and terminal illnesses. Qualifying patients with a physician’s recommendation will receive a medical marijuana identification card from the state. The new law permits registered patients to possess up to “70 daily dosages” of medical cannabis at one time, with each dose a maximum of 50 milligrams.
The Alabama medical marijuana measure also establishes a state Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be responsible for issuing licenses for the cultivation, processing, distribution, transportation, lab testing, and dispensing of medical marijuana. The commission will also maintain a seed-to-sale tracking system to monitor the production, distribution, and sale of regulated cannabis products as they travel from cultivator to patient.
The medicinal cannabis products permitted by the measure are tightly regulated. Oral tablets and tinctures, topicals, transdermal patches, gummy cubes, lozenges, liquids for inhalers, and suppositories are specifically allowed. Herbal or smokable forms of cannabis and edibles such as baked goods and candies are not legalized by the new law.
Cannabis Advocates React To New Alabama Medical Marijuana Law
“This measure is an important first step for Alabamans. As written, this program is limited in its ability to sufficiently address the real-world needs of patients — many of whom receive maximum benefit from inhaling cannabis flower rather than oral formulations, which are often far slower acting and more variable in their effects,” Carly Wolf, the state policies manager for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said in a statement.
“Furthermore, we reject the notion that cannabis should be a treatment of ‘last resort.’ That said, this law begins the process of providing Alabamans, for the first time, with a safe, legal, and consistent source of medicine,” Wolf continued. “In the coming months and years, we anticipate and hope that lawmakers will continue to expand this access in a manner that puts patients’ interest first.”
The Darren Wesley “Ato” Hall Compassion Act, as SB46 is also known, was introduced in the Alabama Senate by Sen. Tim Melson, a Republican who is also a medical researcher and anesthesiologist. He believes that existing evidence supports giving the residents of Alabama the right to choose to use medical marijuana, especially when more traditional treatments have not been effective.
“I was skeptical five years ago,” Melson said. “I started listening to patients instead of the biased people, and this is where we’re at today.”
Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement that the passage of SB 46 is “a major step forward for Alabamians.”
“Rather than being subjected to arrest and criminal penalties for using medical cannabis, this new law will enable patients who are suffering from illnesses and medical conditions to safely use and access medical cannabis, a treatment option that is accessible to so many of their fellow Americans,” said O’Keefe. “We applaud the legislature for passing and Gov. Ivey for signing the Compassion Act.”
A.J. Herrington is a San Diego-based freelance writer covering cannabis news, business, and culture.