Alabama House approves medical marijuana bill

(Graphic provided by WVTM-13) 

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday approved a medical marijuana bill that would allow registered patients with qualifying conditions to safely access and use medical cannabis. 

The Senate is expected to give its final approval and send it to Governor Kay Ivey, who will decide whether to sign it into law and make Alabama the 37th state in the U.S. to legalize medical marijuana. 

This was the first time the Alabama House has considered a medical cannabis bill. Republican opponents of the bill used a filibuster to delay a vote on Tuesday. 

More than a dozen conditions, including cancer, a terminal illness, depression, epilepsy, panic disorder and chronic pain, would qualify a person for medical cannabis treatment.  

Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, released this statement: 

“Passing the Compassion Act will allow seriously ill patients to finally get the relief they deserve. Alabama is one of only 14 states in the country that continues to criminalize the medical use of cannabis, and while this bill is more restrictive than is ideal, it is a dramatic improvement from the status quo and would improve the lives of thousands of Alabamians. We urge the Senate to swiftly concur with the modified bill, and Gov. Ivey to sign it into law.” 

Qualifying for the Program 

  • To legally use and access medical cannabis, patients must apply for and receive a medical cannabis card. To qualify, they must have a qualifying condition and a physician’s certification. A fee of up to $65 will apply. 
  • The qualifying conditions are autism; cancer-related pain, nausea or weight loss; Crohn’s; epilepsy; HIV/AIDS-related nausea; persistent nausea that has not significantly responded to other treatments, with exceptions; PTSD; sickle cell anemia; panic disorder; Tourette’s; Parkinson’s disease; spasticity related to multiple sclerosis, a motor neuron disease or spinal cord injury; terminal illness or a condition causing intractable or chronic pain “in which conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or has proved ineffective.” 
  • The Senate-passed version includes anxiety, menopause, premenstrual syndrome and fibromyalgia. The House-passed version includes depression. 
  • Patients under 19 would need a parent or guardian to pick up their cannabis. 

Legal Protections 

  • Qualifying patients, caregivers and medical cannabis establishments and their staff are not subject to criminal or civil penalty for actions authorized by the bill. 
  • Patients could possess up to 70 daily doses of cannabis. 
  • Patients generally could not be denied organ transplants or other medical care on the basis of medical cannabis. 

Physicians’ Role and Regulation 

  • To certify patients, physicians must be authorized to do so by the State Board of Medical Examiners. They must meet qualifications the board establishes. The House version also requires physicians to pay a fee of up to $300 to certify patients. 
  • Certifying physicians must complete a four-hour medical cannabis continuing medical education course and complete an exam. The courses can charge up to $500. A two-hour refresher is required every two years. 
  • The board will develop rules for certifications including requirements for the patient-physician relationship, detailed requirements for informed consent and how long a certification may be valid, which may not exceed one year. 
  • Certifying physicians must specify daily dosage and type. This would likely require participating doctors to run afoul of federal law. If this is not revised, it would likely dramatically depress participation.