MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate passed legislation Thursday regulating medical marijuana for patients with certain conditions.
The bill now goes to the Alabama House.
Senate Bill 236, dubbed the Care Act, would establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to administer a patient registry system and issue medical cannabis cards. The bill lists about 30 qualifying conditions, including addiction, cancer, autism, epilepsy, terminal conditions and end-of-life care.
Patients would need a prescription from a doctor and a second recommendation from a specialist in order to obtain medical marijuana.
The 17-6 vote happened quickly Thursday morning and without debate. It had been discussed Wednesday on the Senate floor.
Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, is sponsoring the bill. A physician who now does clinical trials, Melson highlighted the medical benefits of marijuana as opposed to more addictive opioid-based drugs.
He said he probably wouldn’t have sponsored the bill before he began researching medical marijuana this year.
“I finally looked up the facts, instead of stereotyping what medical cannabis is, and found out what it actually does,” Melson said.
Melson’s neighbor to the south, Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, was the bill’s chief opponent during floor debate. Also a doctor, Stutts said the medical community is not in consensus about marijuana as a treatment.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics is not in favor for (medical marijuana),” Stutts said. “There are mainline medical organizations that would be on the front line for people who would use medical marijuana, and they don’t support it.”
Stutts also said the legislation is a step toward recreational marijuana. Meanwhile, parents tell their children not to try marijuana, but the state could legalize an aspect of it.
“I think that sends a totally wrong message about it,” Stutts said.
Melson refuted that claim and said the point of the bill is to give those suffering from chronic pain an alternative form of pain management medication.
“I think what the message is (is) that we’re not so narrow-minded and pig-headed that we don’t think about what other options are out there,” Melson said. “If you have someone who has cancer and is going through chemotherapy and is vomiting a lot and nothing else is working, I think it’s pretty cold-hearted to not at least give it a try.”
Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, voted for the bill.
“There are a lot of people who have a number of illnesses, chronic illness, and they’re taking a lot of pain medication,” Coleman-Madison said. “That’s the only way they can function, the only way they can go to work. We know that leads to addiction.”
Alabama in recent years had the highest-in-the-nation opioid prescription rate per capita.
“If we are ever going to get ahead of opioid addition, we are going to have to do something different,” Coleman-Madison said.
Under the bill, the commission would also issue licenses for the cultivation, processing, transportation, manufacturing, packaging, dispensing and sale of cannabis.
Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, will carry the bill in the House. A previous version of the legislation had 20 Republican and Democrat co-sponsors, including Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia.