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Alabama medical marijuana bill could move slowly through House

Medical marijuana shot through the Alabama Senate this week. But it's likely to slow to a crawl in the Alabama House of Representatives. 

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said on Thursday that the legislation would go through the House Judiciary and Health committees before any floor vote — an unusual maneuver that McCutcheon said reflected the questions members of the House had. 

“You’ve got the medical treatment component of the bill, and I think the Health committee needs to address those issues,” McCutcheon said. “The other issue is that we’re dealing with a drug that right now the federal government has not even put its stamp of approval on, although there’s been many states that have approved this for medical reasons.”

Bills cannot go to the floor without committee approval, though that does not guarantee that such a vote will take place. Sending a bill through two committees makes it more difficult for a bill to get to a vote. Committee members can also vote to send legislation to subcommittees, which can further delay the process. 

“Honestly, I’m disappointed that’s the route they want to go, but I’m sure they have their reasons and I respect it,” said Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, the bill’s sponsor. 

The legislation would allow the use of medical marijuana for 16 different conditions, including cancer, fibromyalgia, PTSD and sickle-cell anemia. Patients seeking medical marijuana would need the recommendation of a physician, and a card that would cost $65. The law limits medical marijuana to tablets, oils, and gelatins. It bans smoking, vaping or baking marijuana. 

Melson’s bill would also set up an Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission that would regulate and license dispensers, cultivators and processors of medical marijuana. 

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon gavels in the House of Representatives at the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday February 9, 2021.

 

The Alabama Senate passed versions of Melson’s bill in 2019 and 2020. The House changed the 2019 bill to a study commission. The COVID outbreak prevented the House from taking up last year’s version. 

Melson’s latest bill is little changed from the 2020 version. It passed the Senate on Wednesday on a 20 to 10 vote, after a debate that took about 15 minutes. Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, said Thursday that the speed of the debate reflected the fact that Melson addressed most senators’ issues in the previous sessions. 

“(Melson) incorporated a lot of people’s concerns into the final bill so a lot of that has already been hashed out,” he said. “And so this year there really wasn’t much discussion about it because the work had already been done.”

McCutcheon said Thursday he was “surprised” by the speed at which the bill left the Senate. The speaker said the questions he heard from representatives focused on whether the bill would open the door to full legalization of marijuana, something Melson says he opposes, and how it would interact with existing federal prohibitions on marijuana. 

Federal law lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin and some psychedelics. A 2014 provision known as the Rohrbacher-Farr amendment forbids the U.S. Department of Justice from interfering with state medical marijuana programs, though Congress must renew the amendment every year. 35 states currently have medical marijuana programs. Alabama allows people enrolled in a medical study at the University of Alabama Birmingham access to cannabidiol (CBD) oil. 

McCutcheon said the medical marijuana bill could appear in committee in two weeks.

“We’re going to take our time,” he said. “We’re going to go through the bill page by page and then talk to the members.”

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