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Alabama Releases Rules for Physicians to Prescribe Cannabis

Alabama’s regulators have released new draft rules that offer an insight into how and when doctors may recommend medical cannabis. 

The Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners offered up the rules on Thursday for public comment, saying they were “developed in accordance with the state’s new law on medical cannabis, which was approved earlier this year by the state Legislature and signed into law by the governor.”

The Board of Medical Examiners said its draft rules “include provisions on the registration and training required for physicians to certify or recommend patients for the use of medical cannabis.”

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey approved legislation that legalized medical marijuana in the state. The new law took effect immediately, although the allocation of licenses for patients likely won’t be made available until next year.

The draft rules announced last week by the Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners say that physicians may recommend medical cannabis for any of the following symptoms or conditions, so long as there is documentation indicating “that conventional medical treatment or therapy has failed unless current medical treatment indicates that use of medical cannabis is the standard of care”: autism spectrum disorder; cancer-related cachexia, nausea or vomiting, weight loss, or chronic pain; Crohn’s disease; depression; epilepsy or a condition causing seizures; HIV/AIDS-related nausea or weight loss; panic disorder; Parkinson’s disease; persistent nausea that is not significantly responsive to traditional treatment, except for nausea related to pregnancy, cannabis-induced cyclical vomiting syndrome or cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome; post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); sickle cell anemia; spasticity associated with a motor neuron disease including Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS); spasticity associated with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) or a spinal cord injury; terminal illness; and Tourette’s Syndrome.

The Board of Medical Examiners said that the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which is overseeing implementation of the new medical cannabis law, “is addressing other aspects of the new law, such as the licensing of cultivators, manufacturers, and dispensaries.”

The board will now accept “submissions of data, views, or arguments concerning the proposed rules will be accepted until Jan. 4, 2022,” at which time “the public comment period will be closed, and the Board will consider the comments received and take further action at a subsequent meeting.”

Alabama lawmakers passed legislation legalizing medical marijuana in spring. This ends a long-running effort of advocates to pass the law.

In 2019, the legislature was considering a bill to legalize medical cannabis. However, rather than legalizing the treatment, legislators chose to be cautious and created a special committee to study the issue. The commission recommended that lawmakers legalize medical marijuana at the end of 2019.

The bill finally made it to Ivey’s desk in May, and the GOP governor ultimately added her signature to the legislation a little more than a week after it passed the legislature.

“This is certainly a sensitive and emotional issue and something that is continually being studied,” Ivey said in a statement at the time. “On the state level, we have had a study group that has looked closely at this issue, and I am interested in the potential good medical cannabis can have for those with chronic illnesses or what it can do to improve the quality of life of those in their final days.”

Last month, the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission said that cannabis likely won’t be available for patients to purchase until next year. 

The Montgomery Advertiser reported at the time that the commission “needed to address other duties, including rulemaking and physician training,” and to address “concerns that further legislative action—required to move the dates—could expose the medical cannabis law to attempts to weaken it.”