50 States

50 States: Alabama

By Jo Abbie

50 States: Alabama

Medical: CBD oil approved for limited medical use
Recreational: No
Decriminalized: No

October 22, 2018: A new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) found that Alabama spends nearly $2 million per month enforcing cannabis prohibition. Based on 2016 data, the $22 million annual cost for prohibition netted 2,351 cannabis-possession arrests. Each cannabis arrest costs Alabama taxpayers approximately $9,400. Then there's the question, do we need law enforcement to put a larger focus on cannabis possession or robbery? That same year, law enforcement only netted 1,314 arrests for robbery, which suggests a person carrying a joint for personal use at home is a bigger priority than catching the dude that stole your car. 

Per the report, "As of March 31, 2018, the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences had about 10,000 pending marijuana cases, creating a nine-month waiting period for analyses of drug samples. At the same time, the department had a backlog of 1,121 biology/DNA cases, including about 550 'crimes against persons' cases such as homicide, sexual assault and robbery."

What's Past Is Prologue

Alabama, the so-called Heart of Dixie, has not exactly opened its heart to the decriminalization of cannabis. Currently, Alabama does not allow residents to legally possess, sell or grow cannabis in its natural form. But the state did make history by becoming only the second state to approve the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil. CBD is derived from cannabis, but does not create the intoxicating properties associated with the drug.

On April 1, 2014, Governor Robert Bentley signed Senate Bill 174, also known as Carly’s Law, named for three-year-old Carly Chandler of Birmingham, who suffers from a neurological disorder that benefits from CBD use. Alabama’s Senate voted in favor of the bill, which was sponsored by Republican Senator Paul Sanford, and calls for the University of Alabama to conduct research into cannibidiol's efficacy in treating neurological conditions such as epilepsy. A million dollars has been allocated for the study.

“From the beginning, I supported a clinical trial of cannabidiol oil to research the effectiveness of helping patients with debilitating seizure disorders," said Governor Bentley in a statement when the bill was passed. “Alabama has the best research institutions in the country, and I hope this Alabama-led medical study can bring relief to children, like Carly Chandler.”

Carly’s Law allows patients suffering from severe forms of epilepsy to access prescribed CBD, but its scope is decidedly limited. Despite being one of the largest studies of its kind in the nation, the UAB’s study is open to only 50 adults and 50 children to use the experimental medication.

Attempts to expand this limited legalizationhave so far failed to gather steam. A June 2015 headline read, “Proposed marijuana legislation goes up in smoke,” after the Alabama Legislature’s 2015 regular session came to a close and bills related to cannabis remained dead on the floor. One of the bills fup for a vote in the June session was Senate Bill 326, the Alabama Medical Marijuana Patient Safe Access Act, which would have widened the scope of Carly’s Law and legalized medical marijuana in Alabama for qualifying patients. But the vote on that bill was postponed, leaving supporters frustrated.

Alabama state representative Mike Ball, who was a big supporter of Carly’s Law, says he would like to extend the amount of patients in Alabama who have access to cannabis oil and expressed dismay at the June postponement. “The longer we delay, the more people have to suffer needlessly. It's very frustrating, it seems very foolish that it's restricted. A lot of times common sense just gets lost in the process," he stated at the time.

As for recreational use, Ball has stated that he thinks it unlikely that Alabama will ever legalize recreational marijuana. Indeed, recreational legalization and even a lessening of criminal charges seem like unpopular stances in political circles. Aside from Carly’s Law, other bills, such as those attempting to reduce the penalties from misdemeanor charges to a simple fine for first-time offenders charged with simple possession, are often met with resistance. Republican representative K.L. Brown of Jacksonville, who has supported medical marijuana bills in the past, believes that many politicians are too concerned about disapproval to openly support progressive reform in this area. “There’s a stigma in the State House,” he told an Anniston Star reporter back in June. “I don’t think people are open to discussion.”

Yet polls in Alabama show that the general public supports medical marijuana for people with qualifying chronic conditions. A poll conducted by news website AL.com showed overwhelming pro-legalization attitudes, with 97 percent of respondents saying that they felt the Alabama Legislature should pass the medical marijuana bill. It seems the politicians in Alabama are out of step with their citizens on this issue.

Ron Crumpton, the executive director of the Alabama Safe Access Project (ASAP), an organization that supports cannabis advocacy and reform, remains optimistic about reform. He is hopeful that support from constituents will help influence politicians to pass the bill. So we’ll see what 2016 brings for the people of Alabama.

Photo credit: Unsplash.

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