A bill seeking to permit medical marijuana sales in Alabama has cleared its first hurdle by passing through the Senate Judiciary Committee.

SB 165 would set up a medical marijuana program for the state under legislation titled the Compassion Act. Sen. Tim Melson, a Republican representing Florence, filed the bill after making an unsuccessful bid to legalize medical marijuana in 2019.

It went before the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and passed in an 8-1 vote, so it can now go to the full chamber. Sen. Larry Stutts was the only opponent, while Sen. Sam Givhan abstained.

Audience members applauded the vote when it was made. However, some law enforcements, religious and conservative groups voiced their opposition to the measure, while Attorney General sent a letter reminding lawmakers that federal law prohibits all marijuana use and urging them to respect that.

Melson’s bill would create the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission and task it with overseeing the licensing and regulatory framework. It would also empower Department of Agriculture and Industries would regulate cultivation and establish a 9% sales tax.

The tax revenue generated would go towards a new Consortium for Medical Cannabis Research, which would provide grants for experts wishing to study marijuana.

The bill includes 15 qualifying conditions for medical marijuana prescriptions, including anxiety, autism, cancer-related pain and nausea, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, HIV/AIDS, persistent nausea, PTSD, sleep disorder, spasticity associated with a motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain

It would not allow smoking or vaping medical cannabis, but doctors could prescribe pills, oils, lozenges and patches.

Alabama is one of the few states in which marijuana remains fully illegal and criminalized.

Last year Melson’s bid for legalization fell just short. It could not gain approval in the House of Representatives, which rewrote the bill and instead created the Alabama Medical Marijuana Study Commission to explore the potential for legalization.

“Credit where credit is due: Sen. Tim Melson should be applauded for his work on the medical marijuana issue – a rare case of an Alabama lawmaker doing a hard thing, and taking a political risk, because he thinks it’ll help people,” said Josh Moon, columnist at the Alabama Reporter.

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