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The Alabama Senate approved a bill to legalize medical marijuana on May 9, 2019.

In a 17-6 vote, the chamber cleared the legislation, which would allow patients 19 and older with certain conditions to obtain a medical cannabis card that would allow them to use, possess, and purchase marijuana from licensed dispensaries.

It would also establish an Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to oversee the program. Patients would have to have tried traditional treatment options and also be subject to random drug testing.

The conditions that would qualify patients for the program under the legislation include cancer, autism, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and all terminal conditions.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill in a 6-2 vote in April 2019.

The bill cleared an initial procedural motion on the floor May 8 with a 21-3 vote.

With the favorable vote, the bill heads to the House. It will likely go before the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.

“There is a time I never would have carried this bill a year ago, two years ago,” Republican state Sen. Tim Melson, the bill's sponsor, said during the floor debate. “I finally looked up the facts instead of stereotyping what medical cannabis is.”

The senator also argued that legalizing marijuana for medical purposes could mitigate opioid prescriptions in the state.

Beyond legalizing medical cannabis, the bill would also extend two existing state laws set to expire. One allows for the University of Alabama to conduct studies on the use of cannabidiol (CBD) and the other “provides a defense against unlawful possession” of CBD for qualifying patients.

Tax revenue from medical cannabis sales would be used to implement the program and if the system is adequately funded, revenue would then go toward the state's general fund.

While medical cannabis advanced, lawmakers in the House Judiciary Committee narrowly rejected a bill May 8, 2019,  that would have made low-level possession of marijuana a violation punishable by a fine and no jail time.

That modest decriminalization proposal might have failed, but it's possible that the chamber will be more inclined to embrace a patient-focused marijuana measure. Melson made clear during the floor debate that he has “no desire” to legalize for adult use if medical cannabis passes.

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a similar cannabis decriminalization bill last month.

The southeastern U.S., long considered a cannabis dead zone, has become increasingly supportive of amending marijuana laws.

The Texas House recently approved bills to decriminalize marijuana and expand the state's limited medical cannabis program. Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation expanding the state's medical cannabis program earlier in April 2019. And a Kentucky House committee approved medical marijuana legalization in March 2019, for example.

Feature Image: Photo courtesy of Lahti on WikiCommons