By Michelle Key

The Alabama State Senate has passed SB46, a medical cannabis bill, named the Darren Wesley ‘Ato’ Hall Compassion Act. The bill passed on May 6 with a vote of 20-9 and will now go to Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature.

House of Representative Mike Ball (R) introduced SB46 during the 2021 legislative session and on May 4, which was the 28th day of the legislative session, the bill went before the house and received tremendous pressure and adversarial opposition for approximately 10 hours, according to a press release from the office of the Alabama Chapter of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) and the Alabama Cannabis Coalition (ACC).

Debates and conversations went well into the night and at 11:45 p.m., Ball made a procedural motion to keep the journal open, ultimately classifying it as “unfinished business.” This allowed the bill to be first on the next legislative day calendar. Various members of a coordinated group attempted a filibuster in an effort to kill the bill. Several amendments were offered, however, Ball stood his ground and continued to advocate for patients in Alabama.

Alabama Rep. Mike Ball and Leni, for whom Leni’s Law was named after. Ball sponsored Leni’s Law in 2014 and also sponsored SB46 in this years legislative session.

On May 6, which was the 29th day of the 2021 Alabama Legislative Session, debates and conversations continued for SB46. There were five hours of debate and discussion and several amendments offered. Some of the suggested amendments were defeated, and some were adopted. The most notable adopted amendment was one offered by Rep. Juandalynn Given (D). The amendment was to change the name of the bill in honor of the son of Rep. Laura Hall (D), who had died of AIDS.

It is noteworthy that Hall had introduced a medical cannabis bill more than 20 years ago with little support and unfortunately her son died during proceedings. Hall said she had no doubt had her son had access to cannabis, he would not have suffered and died. SB46 was renamed to the Darren Wesley ‘Ato’ Hall Compassion Act. At approximately 1 p.m., Ball made a motion for final passage. Alabama’s FIRST medicinal cannabis legislation passed the house with a vote of 68-34-1 according to the RAMP/ACC press release.

The bill then moved to the Alabama Senate and, although Sen. Larry Stutts-(R) attempted to filibuster and block the bill, the senate voted to concur at 9:45 p.m. The bill will now be delivered to the governor for her signature.

In 2014, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed into law a bill that would allow the use of marijuana derived oil for medicinal use under the direction of University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Neurology. It was named after 3-year-old Carly Chandler of Birmingham, who suffered from a debilitating seizure disorder.

In 2016, Bentley signed Leni’s Law, further expanding the use of non-psychoactive CBD oil. It also expanded the affirmative defense allowed under Carly’s Law to include any individual who has a debilitating disease or condition to use CBD. Leni’s Law was named about Alabamian Leni Young, who developed a severe seizure disorder following a stroke while in utero.

Leni’s Law was also introduced by Ball, who was inspired by her story and the way cannabis oil was reducing her seizures.

Dustin Chandler, Carly’s father, was approached by Dr. Jerzy Szaflarski in 2017 to discuss a more comprehensive medical cannabis bill. After reviewing Szaflarski’s research data that had been developed as part of the study stemming from the passage of Carly’s Law, Chandler formed a group in 2019 to sit down and draft the first version of what would become SB46.

“This [the passing of SB46] means a lot to my family, however this passage gives hope to many other Alabamians,” Chandler said following the vote. “My entire reason to get involved was to help more people. So helping pass two different bills related to CBD and cannabis has definitely been tiring, however well worth it if Alabamians get help.”

Melissa Chappell Mullins, autism mom, epilepsy wife, multiple-autoimmune patient and advocate, said May 6 was a monumental day for the sick, suffering and dying patients of Alabama. While concerns over the accessibility of cannabis is often the focus of debates, Mullins said that pharmaceutical drugs are often over-prescribed, many of which can have devastating side-effects.

“No one is saying that you should stop taking medicine prescribed by your physician, however we are saying that we deserve a choice, an alternative and a safer method to treat medical conditions,” Mullins said. “For patients like me and my family, who have exhausted all other forms of traditional medications, this is a huge deal for us.”

Mullins said that the use of medicinal cannabis is not about getting high.

“I mean let’s be realistic; there are a multitude of pharmaceuticals, both prescription and over-the-counter, that have the same if not more effects on cognitive functions. But yet, they’re legal and no one gets jailed because of it,” she said. “… This bill is about helping people to heal and medicate in a more natural and therapeutic way.”

As of press time, there is no word on when Ivey might sign the bill. Follow the Observer on Facebook and Instagram for updates as they become available.