A bi-partisan coalition of 20 Alabama House lawmakers, including Republican House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, have co-sponsored a bill to legalize and regulate medical cannabis. Republican State Rep. Mike Ball introduced the bill, HB 243, on Wednesday. But Ball, who is a former agent with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, also wants lawmakers to re-up a pair of laws authorizing cannabidiol research and permitting patients with severe seizure disorders to access certain medical cannabis products.
In 2014, Alabama took its first steps toward the broader legalization of medical cannabis by passing Carly’s Law. Carly’s Law, which Rep. Ball sponsored, authorized a University of Alabama, Birmingham study on the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil as a treatment for seizures. “The research is paying off,” Ball said. The UAB study focused exclusively on conducting clinical trials on children suffering from debilitating seizures. So while Carly’s Law did not include any wider legalization of CBD oil or cannabis, it did provide children participating in the study with access to non-psychoactive CBD oil.
In 2016, after some failed attempts to legalize medical cannabis the previous year, Alabama passed Leni’s Law. Leni’s Law decriminalized cannabis-derived CBD (as opposed to hemp-derived) for patients with a limited set of medical conditions. The bill, named after an Alabama child whose family moved to Oregon to access legal CBD oil, came on the heels of data UAB reported in March 2016 showing 50 percent of the Carly’s Law study participants saw improvement in seizure control.
House Bill 243, introduced Wednesday, would extend Carly’s Law, which expires in July, to Jan. 1, 2021. It would also revise Leni’s Law to include anyone over age 19 who is diagnosed with a qualifying condition.
Beyond renewing the state’s existing medical cannabis legislation, House Bill 243 would flesh out Alabama’s nascent industry with a regulatory and licensing program similar to those in other medical-use states. Rep. Ball says he has received input from doctors who want Alabama to adopt a medical card approach. HB 243 would do exactly that, while also making sure physicians have a key role in the patient registration process. “We want to give doctors latitude on this,” Ball said.
Accordingly, HB 243 would set up the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commissions. The Commission would establish and oversee a patient registry for those with qualifying medical conditions diagnosed by their doctor. In addition to issuing cards to registered patients, the commission would begin the process of licensing a production industry in Alabama. The bill specifies the commission would handle licenses for cultivators, processors, transporters, manufacturers and dispensary operators.
Given it’s 20 bi-partisan co-sponsors, Rep. Ball’s bill hit the House floor with significant momentum. But there are still some lawmakers who worry any cannabis-friendly stance jeopardizes their political careers. For those legislators, Rep. Ball has a clear message: “We don’t need to let fear stop us from helping people.”
Ball said it was “a shame” that Alabama has moved so slowly to provide patients with effective medicine. He also said that failing to act because of concerns about the risk of drug abuse—CBD, of course, is non-psychoactive and non-addictive—does nothing to prevent abuse and everything to hurt patients. “The only people we’re hurting is people who have legitimate medical needs,” Ball said.
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