Harbison, Gudger support non-recreational use -- but not smoking, vaping, edibles

Mar. 2—The Alabama Legislature enters the second month of the 2021 legislative session today, returning local lawmakers to Montgomery to take up a number of high-profile state bills — including the so-called "medical marijuana" bill that passed the Senate last week.

The House will take up the bill, sponsored by Alabama Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence), this week. If approved and signed into law, it would legalize prescription use of marijuana derivatives for medicinal use.

In their support for the measure, two local legislators emphasize that the bill doesn't provide for the legal use of recreational marijuana in Alabama, and that patients who receive the medication would require a prescription, as well as a physician's supervision.

"It's not recreational marijuana; it's for medical use only," said Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman), who voted in favor of the bill as it passed out of the Senate last week. "This is not about anyone's conventional idea of 'pot'; it's about helping patients. If you had been in our committee meetings, and seen the transformation these medications can bring about in little boys and girls as well as adults — people who were having seizures and were dramatically helped after receiving it — it's really eye-opening."

House Rep. Corey Harbison (R-Good Hope) also supports the bill, stressing that Alabama's version of legalizing medicinal marijuana derivatives bears no resemblance to recreational-use measures that have passed in some other states.

"I think 'medical marijuana' is kind of a misleading term, at least with what we're voting on," said Harbison. "This particular legislation will allow for certain ingredients; not for marijuana itself. Those can be extracted from the plants and then combined to make medicine for treatment of a number of different things, benefiting cancer patients with loss of appetite, kids having seizures, people with chronic pain, and so on. If the bill continues through the House as it's written, it won't even permit this to be a smokable substance."

Among other provisions, Melson's SB46 bill, informally titled the "Compassion Act," would amend the Code of Alabama to "provide civil and criminal protections to certain patients with a qualifying medical condition who have a valid medical cannabis card for the medical use of cannabis." The bill also calls for the creation of a new state medical cannabis commission to oversee policy concerning the new cards, the creation of a patient registry, and the licensing and regulation of private businesses involved in the medical cannabis supply chain in Alabama.

The bill also describes which marijuana-derived consumables would be protected under the law, as well as those that wouldn't. Melson's bill describes "medical cannabis" as "a medical grade product in the form of...[o]ral tablet, capsule, or tincture," "[n]on-sugarcoated gelatinous cube, gelatinous rectangular cuboid, or lozenge in a cube or rectangular cuboid shape," "[g]el, oil, cream, or other topical preparation," as well as "Suppository," "Transdermal patch," "Nebulizer.," and "Liquid or oil for administration using an inhaler."

Smoking, vaping, and edibles are not covered under the bill, which specifically excludes conventionally recreational forms of marijuana including "[r]aw plant material," "[a]ny product administered by smoking, combustion, or vaping," or any "food product that has medical cannabis baked, mixed, or otherwise infused into the product, such as cookies or candies."

"People often think of smoking when they think of marijuana, and this legislation is not for smoking marijuana," said Gudger. "The only forms for applying these type of medications is lotion, a mist spray like a nebulizer, a pill form, or a suppository — that's it. In the bill we passed in the Senate, you're not able to smoke marijuana. This is not a bill that seeks to permit recreational use."

House Rep. Randall Shedd (R-Fairview) could not be reached by phone by deadline.