In the span of one week, the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee passed two bills that could move Alabama one step closer to joining states across the country in legalizing medical cannabis and reducing criminal penalties associated with the possession of cannabis.
On April 24, 2019, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed Senate Bill 236 which would legalize the production and use of medical marijuana in Alabama. Among other things, this bill would establish the Compassion, Access, Research and Expansion Act, or the CARE Act, which would allow an individual over the age of 19 who has been diagnosed with a qualifying condition to obtain a medical marijuana card. The bill sets out thirty-three qualifying conditions, including addiction, anxiety, chronic pain, sleep disorders, and end-of-life pain management; however, an amendment to the bill would require that patients obtain opinions from two separate doctors prior to becoming eligible for a medical cannabis card. The CARE Act would also allow caregivers to acquire, possess, and administer cannabis for qualifying individuals who are under the age of 19.
In addition to legalizing medical cannabis, this bill would create a Medical Cannabis Commission to regulate the program within the state. The Commission’s responsibilities would include establishing a patient registry system, issuing medical cannabis cards, and issuing licenses for the cultivation, processing, transportation, manufacturing, packaging, dispensing, and sale of cannabis. The bill was passed by a vote of 6-2 with three abstentions.
This medical cannabis bill comes on the heels of a bill passed unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 17, 2019, Senate Bill 98, that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis. This bill differs from the current law as the degree of criminal offense would be determined by the amount of marijuana in one’s possession instead of whether or not the marijuana was for personal use.
Under Alabama’s current laws, unlawful possession in the first degree is charged if: (1) the offender possesses marijuana for a reason other than personal use (a Class C felony) or (2) he or she possesses marijuana for personal use and has been previously convicted of unlawful possession in the second degree (a Class D felony). Unlawful possession in the second degree occurs when one possesses any amount of marijuana for his or her personal use; it is a Class A misdemeanor.
The new bill authorizes the charge of possession in the first degree if an individual is in possession of two or more ounces of cannabis and possession in the second degree if he or she is in possession of more than one but less than two ounces of cannabis. The biggest change to the law, however, is the creation of a new crime, possession in the third degree, which would occur if an individual was in the possession of one ounce or less of cannabis. A violation of possession in the third degree would be punishable by fine only. For an individual’s first or second violation, he or she would be subject to a $250 fine and for any subsequent violation, a $500 fine. Supporters of the bill are hoping that the new penalty structure will address the state’s overcrowded jails.
The bills are now headed for consideration by the full Senate.1 Questions can be referred to the authors or any member of the Bressler, Amery & Ross Cannabis Law Practice Group.
1 Disclaimer: Possessing, using, distributing and/or selling marijuana or marijuana-based products is illegal under federal law, regardless of any state law that may decriminalize such activity under certain circumstances. Although federal enforcement policy may at times defer to states’ laws and not enforce conflicting federal laws, interested businesses and individuals should be aware that compliance with state law in no way assures compliance with federal law, and there is a risk that conflicting federal laws may be enforced in the future. No legal advice we give is intended to provide any guidance or assistance in violating federal law.