Updated on February 2, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
As legislation changes in Alabama, check back to this section for information about how those legislative changes will affect the prospect of medical marijuana in Alabama.
The Alabama medical marijuana program changed somewhat in 2016 when state legislators passed a law (known as “Leni’s Law”) that decriminalized the cannabis extract known as cannabidiol, or CBD. Patients suffering from a range of chronic and debilitating medical conditions were allowed access to the extract and were allowed to legally possess it. The form of CBD allowed in the state is extremely low in THC, the psychoactive ingredient in weed. CBD oil must contain no more than three percent THC to be legal in Alabama.
Despite not being a legal medical marijuana state, on April 01, 2014, the State of Alabama passed “Carly’s Law,” when Senate Bill 174 was signed into legislation by the Alabama Governor, Robert Bentley, effectively allowing for an affirmative defense against prosecution for the use of the cannabis cannabinoid “CBD” — a.k.a Cannabidiol — by patients diagnosed with a debilitating epileptic condition.
Please be advised that as per SB 174, “a prescription for the possession or use of cannabidiol (CBD) as authorized by this act shall be provided exclusively by the UAB [University of Alabama at Birmingham] Department for a debilitating epileptic condition.”
Additionally, the law calls for the Department of Neurology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham to establish a “research and development study” in order to examine the possible medical uses and benefits of CBD treatment on individuals suffering from certain seizure-related conditions.
For more information on how to access CBD cannabis oil in Alabama, kindly contact the University of Alabama at Birmingham directly.
To be notified when the State of Alabama passes legislature becoming a legal medical marijuana state, please sign up for the Alabama waitlist.
Unfortunately, even though CBD possession is legal in Alabama, obtaining the drug is extremely difficult because there are no provisions for either distribution or cultivation. The only benefit of the Alabama medical marijuana law is that it decriminalizes possession. Patients have to go to another state to find CBD, and then they risk being caught transporting it over state lines — a federal crime.
The U.S. government considers any extract derived from the cannabis plant to be a Schedule I controlled substance, so people bringing CBD oil into Alabama could conceivably risk arrest by federal agents — even though they have a legitimate, medical reason for possessing it.
The 2014 law called for the Department of Neurology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham to establish a “research and development study” in order to examine the possible medical uses and benefits of CBD treatment on individuals suffering from certain seizure-related conditions.
Early results from the study were encouraging. In December 2016, UAB officials presented their findings at a meeting of the American Epilepsy Society. Their research showed that 50 percent of patients who participated saw “sustained improvement” regarding control of their seizures after using CBD.
A total of 81 patients (42 children, 39 adults) participated in the study, which began in April 2015. To qualify, participants had to have suffered at least four seizures each month. They were treated with CBD oil over a period of a month, and during that time, nearly 70 percent said they had experienced at least a 25 percent reduction in the number of seizures they were experiencing. More than half of participants said they had more than a 50 percent reduction in seizures. Over the course of the study, nine percent said they didn’t suffer any seizures at all.
The researchers also found that CBD oil helped improve mood and cognition, but they pointed out that different patients respond in different ways to the extract. Optimal doses can also vary substantially — in some cases, the researchers said, dosages outside the optimal range might not reduce seizure frequency. In fact, the number of seizures could possibly even increase. Further study is needed to determine why CBD is beneficial for some epilepsy sufferers but not for others.
Alabama is one of the most conservative states in the country, especially when it comes to potentially expanding medical marijuana availability. Most observers believe that the Alabama medical marijuana program will continue to be extremely restrictive — and that legalization for recreational use is nothing but a dream.
One of the main reasons is that lobbying groups are severely limited when it comes to contacting state legislators about potentially changing their minds on the issue. The state’s ethics commission requires anyone categorized as a “lobbyist” to come to the state and take an in-person ethics class. This class is only available in the state capital of Montgomery, and it’s only offered four times each year. Anyone who tries to contact a legislator about an issue is considered to be a lobbyist — even if they make only one call to discuss any type of policy.
This is a major burden on marijuana advocates. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and the Institute for Justice sued the state in 2016, claiming that its ethics policy is a violation of First Amendment rights. One MPP lobbyist lives in Virginia and works in Washington, D.C. The MPP is suing because Alabama makes no exceptions for out-of-staters who contact legislators, even if the person only makes occasional calls and performs all of their work outside of the state.
According to the lawsuit, the ethics training program is available online to city and state officials, including county commissioners, board of education members, mayors, council members and several others. There are also many state and municipal employees who are required to take the program but can also take it online.
The lawsuit claims that the ethics training requirement is unconstitutional because it inhibits the rights of people to discuss public policy matters with government officials. It states that just as people aren’t forced to take classes before giving a public speech or participating in a civic parade, they shouldn’t be forced to do so before talking to an elected official.