MONTGOMERY, Ala. (May 10, 2021) – Last week, the Alabama Senate gave final approval to a bill to create a limited medical marijuana program in the state, despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence) introduced Senate Bill 46 (SB46) on Feb. 2. The proposed law would legalize a limited medical marijuana program 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.
Under the law, patients with qualifying conditions could purchase and possess up to “70 daily dosages” of medical marijuana at a time at a maximum dose of 50 milligrams. Vaping, smoking and some edibles would be barred, but lozenges, oils and capsules would be allowed. Despite the limitations, history has shown that once a state establishes a medical marijuana program, it tends to expand and become more liberal over time.
On May 6, the House passed SB46 with some amendments by a 68-34 vote. The Senate quickly concurred with the House amendments and gave final passage to the bill by a 20-9 vote. The measure now goes to Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk for her consideration.
It remains unclear if the governor will sign the bill. According to Marijuana Moment, Ivey told an Alabama TV station that she would thoroughly review the bill. “It helps some people, but you just don’t want it to get out of control,” she said.
Ivey has expressed support for past medical marijuana measures but clearly has some reservations.
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. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election and Mississippi legalized medicinal cannabis. Earlier this year, New York, New Mexico and Virginia legalized marijuana through legislative action.
With 36 states including allowing cannabis for medical use, and 17 legalizing for adult recreational 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.
Ivey will have six days from the state SB46 is transmitted to her office to sign or veto the bill. If she takes no action, it will become law without her signature. Ivey could also propose line-item amendments for the legislature’s consideration.