Legislative Report – May 7, 2021

Volume 22 Number 12 – May 7, 2021

28th & 29th legislative days

Medical marijuana bill headed to Governor

The House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill that would create a statewide medical marijuana program in a historic vote that followed a debate spanning more than two days. Later that night, the Senate concurred on the House changes and sent the bill to Governor Ivey.

The House voted 68 to 34 to approve the measure, sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R – Florence), despite a lengthy filibuster from about a half-dozen dedicated opponents that delayed a vote on the bill on Tuesday.

The bill would authorize the use of medical cannabis for roughly a dozen conditions, including cancer, chronic pain, depression; sickle-cell anemia; terminal illnesses and HIV/AIDS. Patients would need doctor approval to use medical marijuana, which could only be obtained from special dispensaries, and would have to purchase a medical cannabis card, costing no more than $65 a year.

The bill forbids smoking, vaping, or ingesting cannabis in baked goods. It could be consumed as tablets, capsules, gelatins, or vaporized oils. The bill requires any cannabis gummies manufactured to have one flavor.

The Senate, which approved versions of Melson’s bill in 2019 and 2020, passed the legislation with little debate in February. But the process through the House was rough. The bill went through two committees, instead of the usual one.

The House Judiciary and Health committees made changes to the legislation, mostly in distribution of money raised by the bill or conditions covered, but did not touch the core of the legislation and rejected several proposed amendments from Attorney General Steve Marshall that Melson said would have gutted the legislation.

The Governor’s spokesperson has said they will diligently review the bill before signing it.

House erupts in chaos over late-night gambling vote

Following days-long negotiations that proved unfruitful, Republicans attempted to surprise everyone by bringing a simple lottery bill to the floor late Thursday night. The attempt collapsed into accusations from Democrats who said Republicans locked them out of meetings and abruptly introduced the lottery bill late in the day, and Republicans who said they worked in good faith to try to get something out for voters to approve.

Republican leaders planned to hold a vote Thursday on a constitutional amendment allowing voters to decide whether to establish a lottery, casino gambling, and sports betting in the state. But things quickly went off the rails.

The chamber had a long recess Thursday afternoon after passing the medical marijuana bill to negotiate the terms of the bill. Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R – Monrovia) and House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D – Huntsville) met late in the afternoon but were mum about details of the negotiations.

Conversations grew tense. Democrats, whose votes were critical to passage, wanted explicit language to use money for Medicaid expansion and sought guarantees that Black people would be able to hold stakes in the proposed casinos.

Near 11:00 p.m. on Thursday, Republicans introduced a new one-bill Special Order calendar that included only the gaming bill. A substitute that would have cut the bill down to a clean lottery and a possible compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians was not distributed in time for members to review, and Speaker McCutcheon pulled the Special Order from consideration, effectively killing the bill for the night.

The Legislature’s final legislative day is scheduled for May 17. The bill could come up for a vote that day, but the Senate would have to agree to all changes made by the House by midnight that night in order to get it on the ballot for voters to approve.

Upcoming legislative schedule

The House of Representatives and Senate will reconvene for the final legislative day of the 2021 session on Monday, May 17, 2021, at 10:00 and 11:00 a.m., respectively.