Mississippi voted to legalize medical marijuana on Tuesday. Is Alabama far behind?
The Alabama legislator that has spearheaded medical marijuana legislation says momentum was interrupted by the pandemic, but he’s hopeful that it has a chance in next year’s legislative session, which starts in February.
A key difference between Alabama and Mississippi on the issue is that Mississippi had a citizen ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana, said State Rep. Mike Ball, a Republican from Huntsville. Alabama will have to do it through the legislative process.
“Alabama doesn’t have ballot initiative,” Ball said. “Some states have it, some states don’t.”
The coronavirus pandemic hurt the legislative effort this year, Ball said.
“Had we not had to adjourn early, we had a very good medical marijuana bill that would have helped people,” Ball said. “I believe it would have already passed.”
The movement next door in Mississippi may help bring attention and momentum back to the issue, he said.
“The fact Mississippi just passed it should drive home to the people who have unreasonably resisted that it is past time for us to do the right thing and not let fear and ignore keep us from helping people who can be helped,” Ball said.
Medical marijuana was already next door to Alabama in Florida. Other Southern states that allow it are Arkansas, Louisiana and Virginia.
Ball, a former Alabama Bureau of Investigation agent who has been a legislator since 2002, said his views have evolved on the issue, and he sees the same growth from other legislators.
“States have a moral responsibility to ease the suffering that we can,” Ball said. “There’s too much evidence of people being helped. It has been fear and ignorance that have kept us from changing. There’s an opportunity to do some good.”
There are a lot of people in the state, including legislators, who think it makes sense to set up regulations allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana for treatment of certain conditions.
“It’s already passed the senate twice,” Ball said. “We didn’t get our vote. We didn’t get it through the House process because of the pandemic. We had done a great job of informing people. We wound up having to adjourn a month early because the pandemic struck.”
Alabama, experts on both sides agree, remains a longshot to legalize marijuana because of its reputation for conservatism and lagging social trends. Yet everyone agrees the idea becomes less farfetched as more states vote to legalize it and as popular opinion continues to shift in favor of legalization.
The state has already taken significant steps with the passage of Leni’s Law and Carly’s Law.
In 2016, Alabama passed Leni’s Law, allowing patients who suffer seizure disorders or other debilitating medical conditions to use a product that comes from the marijuana plant. The law decriminalized cannabidiol, derived from cannabis, for those with certain medical conditions in Alabama. That law expanded on Carly’s Law, passed in 2014, that authorized a UAB study on using cannabidiol to treat seizure disorders.
“We just did the next right thing, one step at a time,” Ball said. “That got us where we are. We need to take the next step.”