Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, at the podium on the left, debates the merits of a medical marijuana bill with Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, the bill's sponsor. (Mike Casonemail@example.com)
By Mike Cason | firstname.lastname@example.org
A plan to legalize and regulate medical marijuana products in Alabama won approval today in the state Senate after about five hours of sometimes contentious debate.
The Senate passed the bill on a 22-11 vote, moving it to the House of Representatives, where medical marijuana legislation stalled a year ago.
Alabama would be the 34th state to legalize medical cannabis, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The bill, by Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, creates a framework to regulate medical cannabis from cultivation of the plants to production and testing of the products and all the way to the patients, who could use them to treat a variety of ailments. Patients would receive a medical cannabis card authorized by a doctor trained in the use of the products.
Melson, an anesthesiologist and medical researcher, said he believes the overall message of the research and experiences in other states builds a strong case that medical cannabis products could be a potential source of help for patients whose symptoms have not been effectively relieved by conventional medicines.
Opponents of the bill noted that marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law and that legislative approval of its use bypasses more rigorous testing and approval required for prescription drugs.
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, who voted against the bill, tried to amend it to reduce the maximum daily dosage allowed, to place a cap on the amount of THC, to shorten the list of conditions for which the products could be used, and to make it unlawful for people to drive with THC in their system even if the driver has a medical cannabis card.
Melson opposed the amendments, which the Senate rejected.
Senators did approve one amendment by Orr, which capped the amount of THC in products used by minors at 3%.
Sen. Larry Stutts, an OBGYN physician, reiterated his longstanding opposition to medical marijuana, mostly because he said it hasn’t gone through the testing required for prescription drugs.
The bill would authorize doctors who receive training to recommend medical cannabis products to patients suffering from more than a dozen conditions: Anxiety or panic disorder; autism; nausea, weight loss, or pain from cancer; Crohn’s disease; epilepsy or conditions causing seizures; fibromyalgia; HIV-related nausea or weight loss; persistent nausea; post traumatic stress disorder; sleep disorders; spasticity associated with a motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis, or spinal cord injury; a terminal illness in which the life expectancy is six months or less; Tourette’s Syndrome; and conditions causing chronic or intractable pain that can’t be treated effectively treated otherwise.
The Senate approved an amendment by Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, adding menopause and premenstrual syndrome to the list.
Melson’s bill would create the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would establish and administer a patient registry system, issue medical cannabis cards, and issue licenses for the cultivation, processing, dispensing, transporting, and testing medical cannabis products.
The products could be tablets, capsules, tinctures, gelatinous cubes, gels, oils, creams, suppositories, patches, or liquid or oil for use with an inhaler.
The bill would not allow patients to use raw plant material or any product that could be smoked. It would not allow any food products containing cannabis, like cookies or candies.
Republican senators voting in favor of the bill were Sens. Melson; Greg Albritton of Range; Will Barfoot of Montgomery; Clyde Chambliss of Prattville; Chris Elliott of Fairhope; Garlan Gudger of Cullman; Andrew Jones of Centre; Steve Livingston of Scottsboro; Jim McClendon of Springville; Del Marsh of Anniston; Randy Price of Opelika; David Sessions of Grand Bay; Cam Ward of Alabaster; Tom Whatley of Auburn; and Jack Williams of Wilmer.
Democrats voting for the bill were Sens. Billy Beasley of Clayton; David Burkette of Montgomery; Linda Coleman-Madison of Birmingham; Malika Sanders-Fortier of Selma; Vivian Davis Figures of Mobile; Bobby Singleton of Greensboro; and Rodger Smitherman of Birmingham.
Republicans voting against the bill were Sens. Orr, Stutts, Gerald Allen of Tuscaloosa, Tom Butler of Madison, Donnie Chesteen of Geneva, Sam Givhan of Huntsville, Jimmy Holley of Elba, Greg Reed of Jasper, Dan Roberts of Birmingham, Clay Scofield of Guntersville, and Shay Shelnutt of Trussville.