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Legalized Marijuana in Alabama in 2021?

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Today marks six years since recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado. Alabama State Senator Tim Melson, a Republican from Florence, says he plans to re-introduce a bill that would allow Alabamians to possess and use cannabis for medical reasons under strict regulation. The idea passed in the Alabama Senate, but failed to pass in the State House during the 2020 legislative session. Voters in Colorado, by contrast, approved a constitutional amendment legalizing pot by a 54% margin.

Senator Melson’s proposed bill would allow people to cultivate marijuana as well as possess, dispense, and transport it—so long as they’re licensed by the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission. His proposal would create the new board. Currently Alabama allows the farming of hemp for agricultural purposes. APR student intern Jeremy Boyd covered last November’s deadline for farmers to apply for a 2021 license to grow hemp for CBD oil. Dr. Katelyn Kesheimer, with the Alabama cooperative extension system or ACES, told APR hemp farming is still new to Alabama.

“Legally in Alabama we are in our second year,” she said. “So, with the passing of the twenty-fourteen and twenty-eighteen farm bills that opened it up for commercial growers in Alabama in two-thousand-nineteen. So we are currently wrapping up our second growing season in the state. A lot of the crops have been harvested and otherwise processed.”

Kesheimer says agricultural hemp has less of the chemical in marijuana that gives users a high.

“The main difference between hemp and marijuana, even though it’s the same species of plant, is the THC content,” she said. “That Psychoactive compound that marijuana is used for, but hemp has little to no THC. The illegal limit is .3% or lower. It’s primarily grown right now for the essential oils.”

Covid-19 has affected this year’s application process. The virus also prompted many potential farmers to not grow at all. Alabama hemp growers and processors must reapply every year. COVID-19 has also slowed the process and even prompted some growers to not plant a crop. Advocates of Senator Melson’s proposed bill to legalized marijuana helps veterans struggling with PTSD as well as patients dealing with pain. The American Cancer Society says a small number of studies show cannabis can help with the nausea of cancer treatment.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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