Marijuana Reform in Alabama Gets Second Chance

Something strange is happening in the Deep South. Last week, approximately two dozen medical marijuana advocates traveled to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery to persuade lawmakers to pass a bill that would legalize medical marijuana for people with debilitating conditions.

The bill, SB 326, submitted by Democratic Sen. Bobby Singleton, outlines 25 medical conditions that would qualify for medical marijuana as well as any condition that “substantially limits the ability of the person to conduct one or more major life activities as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.”

What makes this bill different from other medical marijuana bills is that it divides medical marijuana patients into three different classes, with each class having different possession and home cultivation limits. For example, a class one recommendation would allow patients up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana while a class three recommendation would allow for up to 12 ounces.

Naturally, the bill has a lot from resistance from the Republican controlled legislature, but it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 27, 2015, with a vote of 4-3. It passed because three Republicans on the committee were absent and one Republican abstained, leaving a very small Democratic majority in the committee.

At this point in the legislative process, the bill could make it to the Senate floor, but that does not mean that it will. Initially, Rules Committee Chairman Sen. Jabo Waggoner, declared the bill dead on arrival, refusing to even let the bill be debated.

“It is bad legislation,” Waggoner told AL.com. “We don’t need that in Alabama.”

However, that declaration led to an outpouring of e-mails, phone calls and letters from medical marijuana advocates. This effort did not change Waggoner’s mind on marijuana, but it did persuade him to discuss the issue with other members of the Rules Committee, which is better than nothing.

If this bill does make it to the Senate floor, odds are it will not make it intact. Legislators have criticized the number of debilitating conditions, characterizing it as too broad and open to abuse. Aside from fears of abuse, there is also ignorance working against the bill.

“I spent a lot of years working with addicts,” Sen. Phil Williams told the Miami Herald. “I see marijuana as a gateway drug.” It is a shame the Williams sees marijuana as a gateway drug because, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse put it, “most people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, ‘harder’ substances.”

So where do the people stand? It is hard to say because there is a lack of recent polling data. However, we do know that a 2004 poll conducted by the University of South Alabama found that 75 percent Alabama residents supported medical marijuana.

Although the poll was conducted more than 10 years ago, it is not unreasonable to think that opinions have remained the same or even improved, given the growing acceptance of marijuana nationwide.

If you are thinking about Alabamian cannabis, don’t get excited just yet. It would take a miracle to get this bill to the Senate floor, and it would take an even bigger miracle to pass both the Senate and the House. However, any bill that gives the hope of opening up a new market always merits consideration, no matter how farfetched it may seem.

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