Medical Marijuana in Alabama

The use of marijuana and cannabis is, as of this writing, still illegal in Alabama. The possession, use, and selling of marijuana are strictly prohibited, and the maximum penalty for trafficking is a life sentence. There have been significant breakthroughs in recent years out of the several initiatives to change the status of medical marijuana in Alabama.

Cannabis has been illegal in Alabama since 1931, which remained largely unchanged for decades.

2024 Update! Go to the end of this article for the current legal position for the use of and possession of Cannabis in Alabama at the start of 2024.

However, the adoption of Carly’s Law in 2014 marked the first major change in the state legislature’s attitude towards medical marijuana. The passage of Leni’s Law in 2016 further improved the situation.

Carly’s Law

Back in 2014, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill named Carly’s Law which allowed the University of Alabama in Birmingham to start conducting research on medical CBD (cannabidiol) with low THC content. The bill was signed by Governor Robert Bentley in April 2014.

status of medical marijuana in Alabama

The law stipulates that CBD can be prescribed and administered by the UAB’s Department of Neurology and its successors and subdivisions. CBD is defined as a non-psychoactive cannabinoid with a THC content of less than 3%. According to the law, CBD can be prescribed to patients with a debilitating epileptic condition or other neurological disorders which cause debilitating, serious, or life-threatening seizures.

According to Carly’s Law, the UAB’s Department of Neurology is the only authorized body where prescriptions for medical CBD can be obtained. Therefore, an individual with a debilitating epileptic condition can’t be prosecuted for the possession of CBD if they have a prescription issued by the UAB Department of Neurology. Likewise, parents and legal guardians of minors with debilitating epileptic conditions can’t be prosecuted for CBD possession if they have UAB-authorized prescriptions.

The UAB Study

The landmark UAB study that began in 2015 explored CBD’s effects on the quantity and severity of epileptic seizures. It was conducted on 132 patients – 60 adults and 72 children – all diagnosed with debilitating, intractable epilepsy. None of the patients responded to standard therapies and procedures. Data on seizure frequency and severity were gathered at baseline and after 12, 24, and 48 weeks. Over the course of the study, the patients were administered CBD by doctors at the UAB Department of Neurology.

At the baseline, the patients had a mean of 144 seizures in 14 days. Twelve weeks later, the mean number of seizures over a two-week period dropped from 144 to 52. According to the study, the decrease remained steady over the course of the study, with some of the patients experiencing an even greater decrease in the number of seizures.

Also, the researchers tracked the patients’ AEP (adverse profile). From the starting average of 40.8, the patients’ AEP dropped to around 33.2 at the first checkpoint (12 weeks). Additionally, the severity of the seizures decreased from 80.7 at the start of the research to 39.2 at the first checkpoint.

Medical Marijuana Patient Safe Access Act

The results of the UAB study prompted the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve Epidiolex (cannabidiol) for the treatment of Dravet syndrome and Gastaut syndrome. This was the first drug based on cannabis that was approved by the FDA.

Failed Legalization Attempt in 2015

Alabama State Senator Bobby Singleton proposed the legalization of medical marijuana back in 2015. The Medical Marijuana Patient Safe Access Act would have allowed patients with 25 debilitating conditions to gain access to medical cannabis. Despite coming out of the state senate’s judiciary committee with unanimous votes, the bill never reached the senate floor.

Leni’s Law 2016

In 2016, a bill was passed to legalize the medical use of CBD. The bill was named after Leni Young, a girl who moved with her parents to Oregon where medical CBD was legal. Leni’s Law was approved by an overwhelming majority (29 votes for and 3 votes against).

The bill expands on the 2014 Carly’s Law. According to Leni’s Law, an individual can’t be prosecuted for CBD possession and use if they have a debilitating medical condition. Likewise, an individual can’t be prosecuted for possession if they are a parent or legal guardian of a minor with a debilitating condition.

Conclusion

The passage of Carly’s Law in 2014 marked the beginning of a change in the legal status of medical marijuana in Alabama. The bill allowed the researchers at UAB to conduct a study on the effects of CBD on patients with debilitating epileptic conditions.

Thanks in part to the results of the study, the FDA approved the first cannabis-based drug – Epidiolex – for treating Dravet syndrome and Gastaut syndrome.

In 2016, after the family of Leni Young fled to Oregon to seek cannabidiol treatment for Leni’s severe epileptic seizures, Alabama passed Leni’s Law, which expanded the number of qualifying medical conditions and created an affirmative defense for patients and parents of children with said conditions.

Update: 2024

Alabama retains strict laws of prohibition for cannabis products for personal use, with a few exceptions, so it is very important to be careful about taking anything across statelines into Alabama, otherwise you can be hit with a felony and jail time.

Lets first look at where the state has relaxed access to some cannabis items for the general public and some laws, then we will look at the overall picture, as at January 2024.

Low THC Products (CBD)

According to NORML's information site: "This state has passed a low THC law allowing for the use of cannabis extracts that are high in CBD and low in THC in instances where a physician has recommended such treatment to a patient with a state-qualifying condition."  In short, you will need a doctors prescription for a CBD product and the condition must be one the state agrees to, which your doctor should be aware of.

LOCAL DECRIMINALIZATION 

(Check with your municipal goverment or mayor's office)

According to NORML's information site: This state has local jurisdictions that have enacted municipal laws or resolutions either fully or partially decriminalizing minor cannabis possession offenses. In short, if you are in the right municipal area and have some CBD oil on you for pain, or a THC product for the same purpose, you may be ok in that area, but this state still practices a high level of restriction, so you will need to check carefully. 

Penalties for Personal Possession and Use

You can go to the NORML website for restrictions and penalties applying to trafficking, sales or non-personal use. The following information concerns personal use and possession:

  1. Possession of any amount of a cannabis product is a misdemeanor with 1 years jail time and a maxium fine of $6,000.
  2. Cultivation in terms of growing your own for personal use will get a felony penalty and jail time up to 20 years with a maximum fine of $30,000.
  3. Possession of a concentrate, or hash, will attract a felony penalty with a minium year in jail, or up to 5 years, with a maximum fine of $15,000.
  4. Possession of "paraphernalia with intent to use" (and may well include vapes that can be used with CBD, not just nicotine liquids) attracts a misdemeanor and a possible year in jail with a maximum $6,000 fine. Note: "intent to use" may mean that you have a cannabis product on you with the vape, implying the vape is  intended for that product. If you only have a vape for nicotine liquid on you, then this law may not apply, but be careful.
  5. A marijuana conviction will also result in a 6 month driver's license suspension.

New Conclusion

If you are travelling to Alabama and have a thought to take a cannabis product with you, even a CBD cream, be very cautious and remember that technically, under the current law, a CBD pain relief cream or balm could get you in a lot of trouble.  Unless you have a doctors prescription that meets the Alabama code for approved cannabis items you could be exposed to a harsh penalty. If you must use a CBD product, or other cannabis product for a medical reason that has been cleared with and licenced MD in another state, then you will need to take steps to do the same in Alabama to be within the law and safe from prosecution.

If you live in Alabama, don't despair! The law is slowly changing and in the not too distant future, Alabama will likely catch up with other states by repealing its highly restrictive legal code concerning cannabis. In the meantime, be very careful about using or obtaining a cannabis product, and unless it is needed for medical reasons, it may be best to refrain from using cannabis in any form in Alabama, for the time being.

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  1. Nice piece for Alabama. Many thanks!

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