Alabama is one step closer to legalizing medical marijuana after the state senate approved a bill this week to permit the treatment for patients with qualifying conditions.

The bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Tim Melson, passed the chamber on Thursday by a 22-11 vote, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. 

“There could have been more of an organized effort to slow it down, and I appreciate the body not doing that,” Melson told the newspaper following the vote. “We tried to address some very serious things. I’m not taking this bill lightly. It’s a big step for Alabama, and there’s still a long way to go.”

Melson has been one of the leading champions for medical marijuana in the state. He was the chair of the Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission, which was born out of a failed effort to legalize the treatment last year. The commission, which was tasked with studying whether medical marijuana was a viable option for the state, held several public meetings last year in an effort to provide guidance to lawmakers. 

The Bill’s Journey

In December, the commission voted 12-6 in favor of legislation that would legalize and regulate medical cannabis in Alabama. Last month, on the heels of that recommendation, Melson introduced a bill to legalize medical cannabis, which would make Alabama the 34th state to take such a step. Melson’s proposal would establish another commission, which would be charged with establishing and administering a patient registry system, issuing medical marijuana cards, issuing licenses for cultivating, processing, dispensing and transporting, and testing the cannabis. The commission would also adopt rules, impose restrictions on licensee activity, and regulate the medical cannabis program in the state.

Under Melson’s bill, patients 19 years and older with anxiety or panic disorder, autism, cancer-related cachexia, nausea or vomiting, weight loss or chronic pain, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, and HIV/AIDS, among other qualifying conditions, would be eligible for a medical marijuana prescription.

Melson introduced a medical marijuana bill last year that also passed the state Senate before fizzling out in the House of Representatives. Following Thursday’s passage in the senate, the bill will now head to the House, where it will likely face a harder road once again.

The Montgomery Advertiser reported that Republican House Speaker Mac McCutcheon “has expressed wariness over the legislation,” and was “noncommittal about the bill on Thursday, but declined to list specific concerns.”

“We’re just in a wait-and-see mode,” McCutcheon said, as quoted by the newspaper.

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