Alabama House OKs medical marijuana bill

Published 9:27 pm Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Alabama House of Representatives overcame years of resistance in approving medical marijuana legislation on Thursday, voting after two days of long and emotional debate in which key Republican lawmakers described switching sides in favor of the proposal.

Representatives voted 68-34 to pass the bill, which would allow people with a qualifying medical condition to purchase medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. The bill now returns to the Alabama Senate to settle differences or be sent to a conference committee.

The state Senate had already approved the bill last February by a 21-8 vote after just 15 minutes of debate. But the House of Representatives had traditionally been more skeptical of medical marijuana proposals and sent the bill through two committees before it reached the House floor.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the bill.

The House approval came eight years after a medical marijuana bill in 2013 won that year’s so-called “Shroud Award” for the “deadest” bill of the year in the House of Representatives.

But Republican Rep. Mike Ball, who handled the bill in the House, said “hearts and minds” have slowly been changed on the issue.

Ball, a former state trooper and state investigator, said he also changed his stance on medical marijuana, becoming emotional at times as he discussed the bill’s House passage.

“Every year that we delay getting help to people who need it, there are more people and more people who are suffering because of it. We’ve still got another year or so before this gets set up and cranked up, but at least we have hope now,” Ball said.

More than a dozen conditions, including cancer, a terminal illness, depression, epilepsy, panic disorder and chronic pain would allow a person to qualify. The bill would allow the marijuana in forms such as pills, skin patches and creams but not in smoking or vaping products.

Representatives voted to name the bill after the son of Democratic Rep. Laura Hall. She first introduced a medical marijuana bill over a decade ago after her son Wesley ‘Ato’ Hall died of AIDS.

Representatives debated the bill for nearly 10 hours Tuesday until lawmakers adjourned shortly before midnight without a vote. Lawmakers did not meet Wednesday and representatives approved the bill Thursday after two hours of debate.

The lengthy debate brought impassioned discussion that included lawmakers expressing fervent opposition. Others spoke, however, of changing their minds on the issue after witnessing the illnesses of family members.

“This can change the quality of life for the people that we love,” said Republican Rep. Allen Farley, a former police officer.

The bill had faced an earlier filibuster from opposed Republicans, who worried that it could be a gateway to recreational use or that medical marijuana could end up in the hands of teens.

“What makes us think we know more than the FDA. My other thought is what if we’re wrong. What if we approve and pass this bill and it is a gateway like it has been for Colorado,” Republican Rep. Rich Wingo of Tuscaloosa said Tuesday.

A medical marijuana bill in 2013 won the Shroud Award for the “deadest bill” in the House.

“They laughed at me,” former Democratic state Rep. Patricia Todd, the sponsor of the 2013 bill said Thursday of the reaction she got from some Republicans at the time.

“I’m glad to see it passed. It’s long overdue,” Todd said.