Alabama has moved one step closer to legalizing medicinal marijuana after HB 243 cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in a 6-2 vote.

The bill is also known as the CARE Act and it seeks to permit patients aged 19 and older to access cannabis to treat addiction, epilepsy, chronic pain, cancer, and depression. State Rep. Mike Ball introduced the bill last month in an effort to build upon Leni’s Law and Carly’s Law, which permit CBD oil use in rare instances.

Carly’s Law permits the University of Alabama at Birmingham to provide non-psychoactive CBD oil to children with debilitating seizures. It expires on July 1.

Leni’s Law, named after seizure sufferer Leni Young, allows adults that experience seizures to obtain a medicinal marijuana card. HB 243 would revise Leni’s Law and allow patients with a much wider range of conditions to access medicinal cannabis.

It would also create the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be in charge of issuing medical marijuana cards and providing licenses for the cultivation, processing and sale of cannabis in the state.

There were three abstentions in the 6-2 vote and the bill will now head to the full Senate. It is likely to be modified before it reaches the floor, if indeed it gets there.

It comes just a week after another Alabama Senate committee unanimously approved a bill that would decriminalize low levels of cannabis possession. The committee passed a similar bill by a vote of 6-4, only for it to die in the House, but this time around all 11 members approved HB 96. Anyone possessing less than an ounce would be subject to a fine but no criminal proceedings under the proposed law.

Arkansas passed a similar law in 2016 and medicinal cannabis sales are finally slated to start next month. Cultivators started processing flower last week and sales at 32 licensed dispensaries should begin from May 12.

The Arkansas Health Department has issued more than 10,000 licenses, but patients have endured a long wait. It has now promised to renew these licenses, which run for 12 months, free of charge, starting on the date that medicinal cannabis sales begin.

If Alabama follows a similar timeline, a regulated medical marijuana trade will not begin until 2022, but Hall hopes it will progress quicker than that.

“The public gets it,” he said. “That’s not a problem. It’s mostly political. It’s fear in politics.”

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