Is medical marijuana heading to the Heart of Dixie? That’s what Alabama state Sen. Tim Melson is fixing to do.

Melson, a Republican, on Tuesday introduced a bill to legalize medical cannabis, a measure that would make Alabama the 34th state to take such a step. His legislation would establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis 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 proposal, patients 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.

Alabama’s Medical Cannabis Study Commission

For Melson, who is a physician, the bill has been a long time coming. He introduced legislation to legalize medical marijuana last year, but it stalled in the legislature and his colleagues opted instead to create a commission tasked with studying the issue.

Melson chaired the Alabama’s Medical Cannabis Study Commission, which held several meetings last year in order to counsel lawmakers on the matter. In December, the panel voted 12-6 to recommend legislators to pursue medical marijuana. 

In its report, the commission outlines several objectives for the proposed legislation and puts the emphasis on restrictions. For example, the commission recommends prohibiting smokable medical cannabis and edibles that resemble food or candy.

The commission also recommends several measures to prevent the diversion of cannabis products or materials, certify and train physicians, and establish a comprehensive regulatory framework.

The commission included some medical marijuana skeptics, including Stephen Taylor, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and addiction psychiatrist who said at a meeting in September that pot is not medicine. 

“If it hasn’t been validated as a medicine, we shouldn’t be calling it medical marijuana or medical cannabis,” Taylor said. “And the idea that we would just put something out there and call it medicine for the people of our state to use when it really isn’t a legitimate medicine, that concerns me. That means that we are taking the chance at causing more harm than good. And that’s the opposite of what we’re supposed to be doing.”

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