Montgomery, Ala. — Alabama lawmakers overcame years of resistance and gave final passage to medical marijuana legislation on Thursday, capping a long and emotional debate in which key Republican lawmakers described switching sides in favor of the proposal.
The House of Representatives voted 68-34 to pass the bill, which would allow people with a qualifying medical condition to purchase medical marijuana with the recommendation of a doctor. The Alabama Senate late Thursday voted to accept House changes and sent the legislation to Gov. Kay Ivey.
The state Senate had already approved the bill last February by a 21-8 vote after just 15 minutes of debate. But the House of Representatives had traditionally been more skeptical of medical marijuana proposals and sent the bill through two committees before it reached the House floor.
Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola said the governor’s office would review the bill.
“We appreciate the debate from the Legislature on the topic. This is certainly an emotional issue. We are sensitive to that and will give it the diligence it deserves,” Maiola said late Thursday night.
The approval came eight years after a medical marijuana bill in 2013 won that year’s so-called “Shroud Award” for the “deadest” bill of the year in the House of Representatives.
But Republican Rep. Mike Ball, who shepherded the bill through the House, said “hearts and minds” were slowly changed on the issue.
Ball, a former state trooper and state investigator, said he also switched his stance on medical marijuana, becoming emotional at times.
“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.
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 the marijuana in forms such as pills, skin patches and creams but not in smoking or vaping products.
Representatives voted to name the bill after the son of a state Democratic representative, Laura Hall. She had first introduced a medical marijuana bill over a decade ago after her son Wesley ‘Ato’ Hall had died of AIDS.
Representatives debated the bill for nearly 10 hours Tuesday until lawmakers adjourned shortly before midnight without a vote. House lawmakers did not meet Wednesday and representatives approved the bill Thursday after two hours of debate, before the Senate gave final approval.
The lengthy House debate brought impassioned discussion that included lawmakers expressing fervent opposition. Others spoke, however, of changing their minds on the issue after witnessing 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.
The bill had faced an earlier filibuster from opposed Republicans, who worried that it could be a gateway to recreational use or that medical marijuana could end up in the hands of teens.
“What makes us think we know more than the FDA. My other thought is what if we’re wrong. What if we approve and pass this bill and it is a gateway like it has been for Colorado,” Republican Rep. Rich Wingo of Tuscaloosa said Tuesday.
A medical marijuana bill in 2013 won the Shroud Award for the “deadest bill” in the House.
“They laughed at me,” former Democratic state Rep. Patricia Todd, the sponsor of the 2013 bill said Thursday of the reaction she got from some Republicans at the time.
“I’m glad to see it passed. It’s long overdue,” Todd said.
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