No Momentum for Legal Weed in Alabama

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No Momentum for Legal Weed in Alabama

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Members of the Alabama House of Representatives say there is virtually No Momentum for Legal Weed in Alabama or an appetite to consider legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational purposes.

For marijuana to be legalized in Alabama – whether for medical or recreational use – it must begin with the state legislature first. And that’s pretty much the end of the conversation because that conversation isn’t taking place these days in Alabama. It seems from recent legislative session that there is no momentum for legal weed in Alabama.

“There’s not been any talk here about, any serious conversations about it,” said state Rep. Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, and House minority leader as well. “I’ve heard more from constituents on this issue than legislators. There’s nobody really leading that fight.”

The House Judiciary Committee has received a bill sponsored by state Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, both this year and last year that would significantly reduce the criminal penalties for possessing legal weed for personal use, which she defined as one ounce or less.

The bill was not even brought up for a committee vote last year a all. And as the 2017 legislative sessions winds to an end, the bill again is sitting in the committee without getting a vote.

“I think we’re still a ways from it,” state Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, said of legalizing medical marijuana in Alabama.

Ball’s perspective is very telling. He has championed bills in recent years that led to a study of cannabis oil at UAB, which included a trial study for qualified applicants to access the oil as well as the 2016 bill that decriminalized possession of cannabis oil that had 3 percent or less of THC – the psychoactive element in marijuana that produces an intoxicating neuro-high effect. At such a low percentage, though, achieving that high is not quite possible.

So if Ball doesn’t see anything happening on legalizing marijuana, that’s probably because there’s nothing to see there.

State Rep. Jimmy Martin, R-Clanton said “I don’t foresee it but there is a possibility”. “You do have the marijuana oil that has been legalized but you don’t have the other and from what I can understand from other states, that has been abused and expanded. They’re calling it medical and they’re just smoking it for the heck of it… I don’t really see in the age of the people in the legislature now, which is my age and a little younger, I don’t see it authorized.”

State Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, perhaps gave the most optimistic outlook on medical marijuana out of everyone. But even that outlook came with some tempered expectations.

“As long as it’s treated like any other drug, I think you could pass the bill today,” Brewbaker had said. “The proponents seem to be committed to a grow-your-own approach and the legislature is just not going to go for that. I don’t think (lawmakers) have a problem with medical marijuana as such. If there’s one thing we ought to learn from mistakes other states have made is that’s when you lose control of it is when people are growing their own in their backyard and you can’t tell what’s legal and what’s not. There’s nothing to stop us from sourcing marijuana at one of the agricultural universities or buying it through the federal program and distributing it to legitimate people with prescriptions through county health departments. There is a way to do the distribution without resorting to people growing it in their backyards. If we could ever get the proponents off the grow-your-own, I think we could pass it pretty easily. But that has not been possible yet.”

Eight states, as well as the District of Columbia, have already legalized marijuana for recreational use. But the other 41 states may legalize it before Alabama does, Brewbaker said calmly.

“If you’re talking about outright legalization, I think we’ll definitely be at the tail end of the pack of that,” he had said. “There’s just no support for it right now. I think we could get a medical marijuana bill as long as that’s what it is – as long as it’s medical. When people insist they would be able to source their own marijuana, I become much more suspicious of what their real motives are.”

On legalizing medical marijuana, Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton, said “It’s probably not a probability.”

Under current Alabama law, possession of marijuana for personal use is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of not more than $6,000 or a combination of the two.

Todd’s foundering bill would help to make possession of personal use a violation – not unlike a traffic citation – punishable only by a fine of $250 on first offense and $500 on any other offense. The violation would not appear on a person’s criminal record.

Todd’s bill also had a Republican co-sponsor, Alan Harper of Northport, but lacked support on a bill almost two months ago and seems it was failing on arrival.

South also described medical cannabis as “a gray area” and said, “We have to be careful and make sure we are doing the correct thing.”

There are perhaps two other hurdles. First, as one lawmaker said: Legalizing weed in Alabama is pretty much off-limits in the 2018 session because it’s an election year so the earliest a serious conversation might be had is at least two years away. Further hinting that there is no momentum for legal weed in Alabama.

The other is the fact that still marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Schedule 1 is the classification for the most serious drugs that, according to the DEA, have no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse from civilians

“We have folks hitting us all the time why pass bills that are in contradiction with federal laws. This is one I would agree it’s probably not wise use of the legislature’s time, particularly on the recreational side, to pass laws that we know are in contradiction with federal law.”

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