Update: As of five o’clock Eastern Standard Time, Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama has signed Senate Bill 236 into law.
Original: The governor of Alabama has to make a decision today about whether to sign into effect Senate Bill 236, a medical marijuana measure that has been weakened from its original version. In its final form, the legislation would extend access to cannabis oil for kids who experience seizures and create a commission to study medical marijuana and make recommendations to lawmakers on potential policy changes.
WHNT News 19 reported that Representative Mike Ball — who was instrumental in the initial passage of Carly’s Law, which guarantees access to kids who suffer seizures — told the channel he would be “shocked” if Governor Kay Ivey does not sign the bill.
The governor’s office has said Ivey is reviewing the bill. If she chooses not to sign it before 11:59 p.m. on Monday, it will die.
Though the bill was the subject of much floor debate, it passed the House with a whopping majority, 80-19, on May 31. “The opposition comes from people who practice politics in the name of religion,” said Ball.
Republican state senator Tim Melson was the legislation’s sponsor. He originally presented a version of the bill that would legalize the sale of medical marijuana for patients with sign off from a doctor.
“People realize we need to quit thinking everything’s wrong because it was taboo in the past,” he said after the bill got its final Senate approval. “It doesn’t mean we don’t need to be looking for the good in it.”
Alabama is a state that has long shown reluctance to enact marijuana regulation. Though Melson’s version passed the Senate, in the House it was watered down. The bill’s proponents accepted the dialing back of legalizing sales of medicinal cannabis for a list of 12 health conditions and the establishment of a patient ID system. The bill’s allowances reduced mainly to the establishment of the investigatory commission and the extension of the Carly’s Law study.
Advocates hoped that at least, the findings of the commission would provide groundwork to create future legislation — the legislation states that it would be required to submit recommendations by the beginning of December. The commission would be comprised of 15 members, including four doctors, three lawyers, and other appointees knowledgeable in mental health and the business community.
“We were about to make a big step,” said Ball. “Had it not been blocked we would have, it would have been a big step. But now, it’s a baby step,”
In 2017, Ivey’s office declined to answer questions on Ivey’s views on cannabis for NORML; “We have no statement on marijuana [nor] has the Governor made any statement on marijuana.”
It wouldn’t be accurate, however, to say that Alabama has made no progress on marijuana laws, even if Ivey declines to sign this latest piece of legislation. In April, the state’s most populated county decided to stop arresting people for nonviolent misdemeanors.
That news was particularly significant given findings that law enforcement disproportionately targets Black Alabamans for cannabis-related crimes.
Though the state lags behind many in its regulation of cannabis, its marijuana advocates are convinced that education is the key to progress. ”Any time that we’ve progressed it’s fear and ignorance, is what we have to overcome,” said Ball.