[Editor’s Note: This updates an earlier story on AlToday.com]
The debate over legalizing medical marijuana in Alabama will continue as lawmakers in the Senate Judiciary Committee issued a favorable report on SB 326, known as the Medical Marijuana Patient Safe Access Act.
Wednesday afternoon’s 4-3 vote spurred applause in a hearing room packed with advocates.
Sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton, the act would allow patients with one of 25 “serious medical conditions” to be prescribed marijuana by a qualifying physician.
“There are too many citizens in chronic pain,” Singleton said. “We’ve been demonizing marijuana for too long and we’re now starting to hear from the medical community that there are real benefits in marijuana treatment.”
The legislation states that after a full medical evaluation, physicians would assign patients to one of three classes of medical marijuana recipients, based on the level of their prescription:
- Class One: Allows a qualified patient or designated caregiver to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of medical-grade marijuana per month or grow no more than 8 ounces (or eight plants per patient) with a medical grow license.
- Class Two: Allows patients or caregivers to buy up to five ounces of medical marijuana per month or grow as much as 12 ounces (12 plants per patient) with a license.
- Class Three: Allows a monthly purchase of up to 16 ounces medical marijuana. Patients could also grow up to 16 ounces of cannabis, or 16 plants, with a license.
Patients with a prescription from a qualifying physician would then be able to purchase or grow medical-grade cannabis without prosecution. The bill requires patients to apply for a medical marijuana identification card from their county health department and pay a $100 registration fee. The health department would collect data on patient use and compliance with the medical plan.
The bill also states that employers cannot discriminate against employees who have prescription cards, though employees would not be able to use medical marijuana while on the job.
The legislation will still face hurdles as it continues through the Senate. Sen. Phil Williams raised concerns that the bill would encourage dependency or addiction to other illegal drugs.
“I’ve worked with a lot of messed up kids,” he said. “All of those who were addicts never intended to become addicts. But in all cases, marijuana was the gateway drug that led them down that path. I’ve seen too many devastated lives to give my support to this bill.”
Other lawmakers urged for greater safeguards against abuse by patients and service providers.
Last year, Gov. Robert Bentley passed Carly’s Law, legalizing use of a nonintoxicating marijuana extract known as cannabidiol or CBD. If lawmakers pass this legislation, Alabama would join 23 other states that allow marijuana for medical purposes.