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The State of Medical Marijuana in Alabama
2020 Grade: F
2019-2020 Improvements and Recommendations
After four public meetings and independent deliberations, the Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission released its report required by SB 236 in August of 2019. The report outlined key items that should be included in state legislation to authorize a comprehensive medical cannabis program, and senators moved quickly in 2020 to introduce and pass SB 165 containing the Commission’s recommendations. Unfortunately, House lawmakers never took the bill up before the legislature adjourned for the year on June 17, opting to continue subjecting patients to the state’s extremely limited evaluation and access system.3 As lawmakers prepare for the 2021 legislative session ASA recommends discussing organization of a comprehensive medical cannabis policy regime, that includes legal protections for medical cannabis patients as well as safe legal access to lab-tested medical cannabis and related products that can be sold to patients at licensed retailers. ASA also recommends authorizing patients to cultivate cannabis at home to reduce costs to patients.
In 2014, the Alabama state legislature passed Carly’s Law (SB 174), which required participation in a University of Alabama clinical trial to become a legal patient and offered an affirmative defense for the possession and use of CBD. However, Carly’s Law ultimately proved too restrictive to extend functional access, as it only allowed patients to obtain legal CBD access after a medical practitioner at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) made a diagnosis for a “debilitating epileptic condition”. Only then could patients secure access to CBD with no more than 0.3% THC.
In 2016, Alabama enacted “Leni’s Law” (HB 61). It extended the affirmative defense language to several conditions and removed the requirement that patients be enrolled in a UAB study program. Under Leni’s Law, patients are eligible for the affirmative defense if they are simply diagnosed with a debilitating condition, regardless of the age of the patient. However, a “prescription” is still required in order for a minor’s parents or legal guardian to be eligible for the affirmative defense. Because physicians cannot legally write prescriptions, only recommendations for medical cannabis due to its federal Schedule I designation, parents and guardians of minor patients may be ineligible for legal protections.
2016 also saw Alabama legislators approve The Alabama Industrial Hemp Research Act (SB 347), which integrated hemp into the state’s controlled substances law and defined hemp as containing no more than 0.3% THC by dry weight. These efforts paved the way for the state to integrate into the federal USDA hemp production program authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill. In 2019, Alabama began accepting applications for hemp cultivators under the state research program, with state hemp cultivators getting to work on producing their first legal crops in compliance with state standards in 2020.
Surveyed patients report feeling frustrated that, again this year, the only access to medical cannabis is through the state’s extremely limited CBD program or through the illicit market.