Medical marijuana bill headed to Governor
The House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill that would create a statewide medical marijuana program in a historic vote that followed a debate spanning more than two days. Later that night, the Senate concurred on the House changes and sent the bill to Governor Ivey.
The House voted 68 to 34 to approve the measure, sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R – Florence), despite a lengthy filibuster from about a half-dozen dedicated opponents that delayed a vote on the bill on Tuesday.
The bill would authorize the use of medical cannabis for roughly a dozen conditions, including cancer, chronic pain, depression; sickle-cell anemia; terminal illnesses and HIV/AIDS. Patients would need doctor approval to use medical marijuana, which could only be obtained from special dispensaries, and would have to purchase a medical cannabis card, costing no more than $65 a year.
The bill forbids smoking, vaping, or ingesting cannabis in baked goods. It could be consumed as tablets, capsules, gelatins, or vaporized oils. The bill requires any cannabis gummies manufactured to have one flavor.
The Senate, which approved versions of Melson’s bill in 2019 and 2020, passed the legislation with little debate in February. But the process in the House faced more challenges. The bill went through two committees, instead of the usual one.
The House Judiciary and Health committees made changes to the legislation, mostly in distribution of money raised by the bill or conditions covered but did not touch the core of the legislation and rejected several proposed amendments from Attorney General Steve Marshall that Melson said would have removed key provisions of the legislation.
The Governor’s spokesperson has said they will diligently review the bill before signing it.
Gambling Legislation Falls Apart Thursday Night
If passing medical marijuana legislation was not enough, the House was also set to take up compressive gambling legislation on Thursday as well. While hopes were high to address both monumental pieces of legislation, the controversial issue was too much. The problem lies in successful passage of a lottery/gaming bill will require votes from Democrats and Republicans. Some republican members are opposed to gambling therefore to reach the constitutional amendment threshold, the Democratic representatives will have to support the legislation. Democratic leadership wanted certain assurances in the legislation to support its passage. When these demands were not met, House leadership had no choice but to pull the legislation since its defeat was guaranteed. In theory, the sides could work out differences between now and the last day of the session on May 17th, but it will be challenging.
If the House did manage to pass gambling legislation, the Senate would have to agree to all changes made by the House by midnight for it to make it on the ballot.
Upcoming legislative schedule
The House of Representatives and Senate will reconvene for the final legislative day of the 2021 session on Monday, May 17, 2021, at 10 and 11am, respectively.