From The Tribune staff reports
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday passed the medical marijuana bill in a 68 – 34 vote. The bill, with minor changes, now returns to the Senate, which previously passed it in a 21 – 8 vote. The Senate can choose to put the bill up for concurrence or it could be sent to a conference committee.
The bill would allow people with a qualifying medical condition to purchase marijuana after getting a recommendation from a doctor. More than a dozen conditions, including cancer, a terminal illness, depression, epilepsy, panic disorder and chronic pain would allow a person to qualify. The bill would allow marijuana in forms such as pills, skin patches and creams but not in smoking or vaping products.
Representatives debated the bill for nearly 10 hours Tuesday until lawmakers adjourned shortly before midnight without a vote.
The lengthy debate brought impassioned discussion that included lawmakers expressing fervent opposition or how they changed their minds on the issue after the illnesses of family members.
“This can change the quality of life for the people that we love,” said Republican Rep. Allen Farley, a former police officer.
On Thursday, the House renamed the bill the Darren Wesley Hall “Ato” Compassion Act, after the son of Rep. Laura Hall. Hall’s son died of AIDS at the age of 25 and Hall has been vocal about how medical marijuana may have helped him. She even brought up a bill for medical marijuana 20 years ago.
Procedural votes indicate the bill has enough support to pass.
The House approval came eight years after a medical marijuana bill won the 2013 “Shroud Award” for the “deadest” bill that year in the House of Representatives. Republican Rep. Mike Ball, who handled the bill in the House, said “hearts and minds” have slowly been changed on the issue. Ball, a former state trooper and state investigator, said he too changed his mind on medical marijuana and became emotional at times as he discussed the passage of the bill.
“Every year that we delay getting help to people who need it, there are more people and more people who are suffering because of it. We’ve still got another year or so before this gets set up and cranked up, but at least we have hope now,” Ball said.