An Alabama commission tasked with studying medical cannabis has voted to recommend legalization. On Friday, the commission voted 12-6 in favor of legislation that would legalize and regulate medical cannabis in Alabama. Now, Republican Sen. Tim Melson, who chaired the commission, says the next move is to bring a draft of the bill reviewed by the group to the floor during the next legislative session. Melson will sponsor and introduce that bill at the start of the February 2020 session.

Two-Thirds Support for Medical Cannabis Among Study Commission

Along with its two-thirds vote in support of proposing medical marijuana legalization, Alabama’s Medical Cannabis Study Commission released a report of its discussion and findings. The report indicates that while views among commission members were mixed and diverse, there was broad consensus that both hemp and marijuana can “provide significant relief for symptoms of certain specified medical conditions.”

Despite shared views about the efficacy of cannabis as medicine, the commission struggled to find common ground on the issue of legalization itself. Those opposed to legalization efforts cited a number of concerns for their position, including the well-worn anti-legalization talking points around cannabis in the workplace, drug-impaired driving, fears over underage consumption and cannabis use disorder.

Nevertheless, only three members of the study commission voted against the recommendation to pursue a medical marijuana bill. Three other members abstained from the vote, while 12 voted in favor. The show of support by the commission, comprised of researchers, health officials, legal experts, farmers and policymakers, could signal that next year’s legalization efforts will fare better than previous attempts.

Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission Grew Out of Failed Legalization Effort

In fact, Alabama’s medical cannabis study commission emerged after SB236, introduced by Sen. Melson during the 2019 Regular Session, stalled in the House after clearing the full Senate. Melson’s bill would have created a comprehensive medical cannabis program in Alabama. But the only part of the bill that cleared the House Health Committee was the provision to create the medical cannabis commission.

Now, the commission is helping shape the form that Sen. Melson’s 2020 bid to legalize medical marijuana will take this February. 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.

Could Alabama Legalize Medical Marijuana in 2020?

Alabama’s Study Commission recommendations say little about the needs of patients and caregivers, except that the process of legally obtaining medical marijuana should not be “overly burdensome.” The recommendations also describe working to balance “patients’ needs” with “a desire to provide revenue to the state.”

But at the top of the list, the focus is on eliminating cannabis use by individuals “not truly in need” and ensuring law enforcement continues enforcing state drug laws and eliminating unlawful diversion. So far, the commission has not recommended a list of qualifying conditions.

These priorities reflect Alabama policymakers’ long-standing skepticism toward cannabis reform. Indeed, at the first public hearing held by the Study Commission, Barry Matson, executive director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association, said “medical marijuana in many states is, in fact, recreational.” In response, Sen. Melson argued that broad public support for medical cannabis legalization means “we at least have an obligation to the people of Alabama to consider it.”

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