Alabama lawmakers have shifted their views regarding citizens’ use of the cannabis plant in the wake of a growing economic, social, and political push for the legalization of medical marijuana across the U.S.The substitute medical marijuana bill that Governor Kay Ivey signed on June 10th,2019, includes a proposal created by Alabama lawmakers to allow citizens 19 and older suffering from one of the 33 listed conditions to qualify for medical marijuana. In addition, the bill extends Carly’s Law of 2014 and develops a medical marijuana commission that will help make decisions for a bill that could be considered in the year of 2020.
The medical marijuana commission includes 15 licensed professionals from various backgrounds. There are physicians who will specialize in areas such as, pain management, pediatric neurology, oncology, and palliative care. Amongst the physicians will be a licensed pharmacist, a mental health or substance abuse advisor, a criminal defense attorney, a district attorney, and an employment attorney. The commission is a good step towards medical marijuana legalization because it will provide further research on a topic that many citizens and legislators are still uneasy about.
Although efforts to pass medical marijuana legislation in the conservative state have been stagnant, Alabama’s legislatures have taken small steps toward medical marijuana legalization, such as the passage of Carly’s Law in 2014. Carly’s Law is derived from the child of Amy and Dustin Chandler. The Chandlers pushed for studies that could benefit seizures and epilepsy for a few years, but their efforts were not successful. Finally, in 2014, Carly’s Law granted access to students at The University of Alabama at Birmingham to conduct clinical trials using CBD oil to treat children who suffer from seizures. Carly’s Law of 2014 has benefited the state because residents and officials had the opportunity to experience the advantages of CBD oil when 50 children and 50 adults, participated in the clinical trial.
SB 236 also states that insurance companies and health benefit plans are not required to reimburse patients for any cost related to the purchase of medical cannabis. Medical marijuana consumption will essentially be the sole responsibility of the physicians and the patients because of the detailed statewide clearance system. This system requires physicians to complete a two-hour course and examination on the patient before prescribing the medication.
Although SB 236 was approved by Governor Kay Ivey, the state of Alabama is still very conservative in its approach to social issues. Some legislators are only willing to support the medical marijuana bill because the Act allows city and local governments to tax the sale of medical cannabis up to 2.1% of all sales. If more taxes are imposed on the sale of medical cannabis, it could generate more revenue to rural areas, who are being excluded from the 10% tax. In order to sell medical marijuana, cannabis growers, distributors, and sellers of medical cannabis would be required to have a license, because it would be permitted at the state level. The careful study of each rural and urban community is aimed to prevent a concentration of businesses and dispensaries in one area. If businesses are concentrated in one area, it would inconvenience some patients and it might raise concerns about equal transportation and cost-efficiency.
Despite the potential health and economic benefits, some legislators are still against the legalization of medical marijuana because they fear that it will lead to the legalization of recreational marijuana. House officials failed HB 96, which aimed to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. However, legislators expressed their views on repeat marijuana offenders and decided that a fine would not be enough. If more people are fined, instead of jailed for small amounts of marijuana, it could help Alabama’s overcrowded prisons. Most individuals arrested for marijuana are African Americans, despite equal rates of usage in black and white communities. This has led to African Americans being arrested four times more than whites for possession, which places minorities at a disadvantage in the legal system.
States such as California, Nevada, and Colorado, all started with the passage of a bill that allowed the sale of medical marijuana. These states have seen some negative effects after the legalization of marijuana, including more accidents caused from individuals driving while under the influence, increased mental health problems amongst teenagers, and an increased risk in underachievement among young adults. Alabama legislators are afraid of the negative effects that could impact the state and its communities, so they have decided to take one step at a time, to ensure the safety and security of the new medical marijuana bill.
Furthermore, the medical marijuana bill has passed a highly conservative legislature in Alabama because officials want to give patients suffering from various illnesses, access to another form of treatment. Legislatures in the state have also noticed an increase in opioid addiction and would like to gain control of the crisis by utilizing medical marijuana to help reduce prescriptions for opioids.
Now that Governor Kay Ivey has signed SB 236 into law, Alabama’s legislatures and the newly appointed medical marijuana commission, can work together to help people who are suffering from chronic illnesses.
This article was written by Adrianna Bayles, a summer intern at Reid Law. Adrianna is currently studying Political Science and Florida A&M University.