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House committee advances medical marijuana bill; three more votes needed

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Melson marijuana

State Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, who sponsored a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Alabama, speaks to reporters after the bill's passage in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 17, 2020. 

Sen. Tim Melson’s bill to allow medical marijuana with restrictions cleared another hurdle on Wednesday when it was approved by the House Judiciary Committee.

The voice vote came after more than two hours of discussion and the addition of 10 amendments. Seven other proposed amendments were rejected.

Melson told the committee that about 240,000 Alabamians could benefit from the legislation.

“It sounds like a lot, but it’s not when you think of cancer,” he said.

Senate Bill 46 allows for the prescription of medical marijuana to treat 16 conditions, including cancer, anxiety, epilepsy, menopause, a terminal illness and chronic pain, after other pain remedies have been exhausted. The bill would allow marijuana in forms such as pills, skin patches and creams but not in smoking or vaping products.

The bill creates the 11-member Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission that would establish a patient registry system for qualifying patients and caregivers and license facilities that process, transport, test or dispense medical cannabis.

With about five weeks left in this legislative session, the bill now faces three more votes. In a rare move, it now goes to a second House committee, health. If approved there and the full House, it would go back to the Senate to concur with changes.

The Senate approved the bill 20-10 in late February, but the House has proven more leery of the proposal in this and previous sessions.

Several lawmakers thanked Melson and Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, for their efforts on the legislation.

“I’m opposed to recreational (marijuana) and this is not that bill,” Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley, said.

Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, a former assistant Jefferson County sheriff, spoke of his late mother, who had dementia prior to her death and was in a memory care facility.

“If this right here can help some of those grandmothers and great-grandmothers to have a quality of life and not just sit there doped up in a chair, we’re going to do a great thing for the state of Alabama,” Farley said.

Opposition to Melson’s bill has included Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, the Alabama Policy Institute and the conservative Alabama Citizen’s Action Program.

At a public hearing last month, API’s chief policy officer, Phil Williams, spoke against the bill and the 9% tax on cannabis products it includes, saying it grows government.

Amendments offered and approved by the committee included Rep. David Faulkner’s “transparency amendment” that says companies involved in the sale of medical marijuana have to disclose the names of their stakeholders with financial interests. Another amendment from Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook, specifies that Melson’s bill isn’t opening a door in the state for recreational marijuana.

Amendments from Rep. Ben Robbins, R-Sylacauga, adopted by the committee say that Alabama won’t have reciprocity agreements to recognize medical marijuana patients from other states and require public hearings prior to the licensing of any medical marijuana-related businesses.