MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Feb. 3, 2021) – On Tuesday, an Alabama Senate committee passed a bill to create a limited medical marijuana program in the state, despite federal prohibition on the same.
Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence) introduced Senate Bill 46 (SB46) on Feb. 2. The proposed law would legalize medical marijuana for patients 19 and older with qualifying conditions. The bill would create a licensing program for medical marijuana patients and caregivers. SB46 would also create a Medical Cannabis Commission to administer the program. This body would establish and run the registry program, and create a licensing framework for the cultivation, processing, transportation, manufacturing, packaging, dispensing and sale of cannabis. The commission would also be empowered to adopt rules, and to generally regulate, administer and enforce a medical cannabis program in the state.
On Feb. 2, SB46 passed the House Judiciary Committee by an 8-3 vote.
The bill would create a relatively restrictive program. Raw cannabis, smoking, vaping, and candy or baked good products would be prohibited, and doctors could only recommend cannabis for pain in cases where “conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or has proved ineffective.” But history has shown that once a state establishes a medical marijuana program, it tends to expand and become more liberal over time.
“It’s encouraging to see lawmakers making progress towards legalizing medical marijuana in Alabama,” Karen O’Keefe, state policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment.
Last year, a similar bill sponsored by Melson passed the Alabama Senate, but it did not pass the House.
While marijuana has become more widely accepted across the U.S., the federal government still claims it is illegal. As we’ve seen with immigration sanctuary cities, when state and local enforcement ends, the federal government has an extremely difficult time enforcing their acts.
Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Legalizing marijuana in Alabama would remove a layer of laws prohibiting and punishing the possession and use of marijuana. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly annual budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution either. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Alabama could join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. South Dakota, New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election and Mississippi legalized medicinal cannabis.
With 36 states now allowing cannabis for medical use, and 15 legalizing for recreational adult-use the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
SB46 will now move to the full Senate for consideration.