The Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission held its first meeting in Montgomery on August 13. The commission, formed in the last days of the 2019 legislative session, is composed of 15 individuals appointed by various state government officials and agencies:
- Martina Bebin – Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics, UAB
- Brett Bloomston – Criminal Defense Attorney
- Foster Cook – Retired Director, Community Justice Programs, UAB School of Medicine Substance Abuse Program
- Angello Dello Manna – Director, Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences
- Thomas Eden – Partner, Constangy Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP
- Virginia Guy – Executive Director, Drug Education Council
- Scott Harris – State Health Officer, Alabama Department of Public Health
- Dexter Hearn – Independent Pharmacist
- Jill Lee – District Attorney, Shelby County
- Hunter McBrayer – Commodity Division Director, ALFA
- Tony McGrath – Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatric Neurology, UAB
- Tim Melson (Chair) – Senator; Anesthesiologist
- Steven Stokes (Vice-Chair) – Radiation Oncologist
- Jerzy Szaflarski – Director of Division of Epilepsy, UAB Department of Neurology
- Rex Vaughn – President, Madison County Farmers Federation President
The commission is expected to hold three public meetings and provide the Legislature with a report and proposed legislation by December 1, 2019. Senator Tim Melson, who was elected chair of the commission at the meeting’s opening, proclaimed that the commission’s purpose is to “come up with a bill that can provide medical cannabis to those who need it and keep it out of the hands of those who don’t.”
For much of the meeting, Paula Greene, Legislative Counsel for the Alabama Legislative Services Office, presented a comprehensive overview of SB 326, a bill introduced by Senator Melson that would have legalized medical cannabis in Alabama. That bill passed the Senate but stalled in committee in the House, resulting in the compromise bill that formed the commission. Before adjourning, the commission scheduled its next meeting in Mobile for September 9, 2019.
Medical cannabis supporters should take Senator Melson’s statement as a positive sign that the commission’s report will be favorable to their cause. The time and attention to detail devoted to the overview of SB 236– which, again, did not pass the Legislature last year – seems to be a clear indication that it will serve as the starting point for any legislation proposed by the commission.
Based on the composition of the commission and discussions at the opening meeting, we anticipate the commission’s report will provide the scientific and medical evidence to justify the adoption of a bill similar, if not identical, to SB 236. The meeting did yield two potential topics of future in-depth discussion for commissioners: which medical conditions will be “qualifying conditions” for which medical cannabis will be available and what types of delivery systems will be permissible in Alabama.
On the first topic, both Melson and Greene indicated that chronic pain is a condition for which states have taken different approaches and may not be included in proposed legislation in Alabama, while on the second topic, there was substantial discussion about whether smokable cannabis was an effective delivery system. Finally, although Melson and Vice-Chair Dr. Steven Stokes indicated support for medical cannabis generally, the other members of the commission were more guarded about their opinions at the first meeting. However, we expect that to change in the upcoming meetings, particularly from commission members representing state law enforcement interests.
We plan to attend and report on the commission’s meeting in Mobile on September 9.