Lawmakers consider medical cannabis revamp

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External view of the Alabama State House

Miranda Fulmore, WBHM

It’s been three years since Alabama lawmakers passed legislation establishing a system to govern medical cannabis in the state, yet not one prescription for the drug has been filled. The rollout has been delayed by lawsuits and conflict over the licensing process. Now legislators are considering, in the words of one lawmaker, “starting from scratch.” 

“It’s coming from frustration. Lawmakers are very frustrated,” said Todd Stacy, host of Capitol Journal on Alabama Public Television.

Stacy discussed that bill and other legislative action this week.

Medical cannabis do-over

The bill by Republican Sen. Tim Melson, who sponsored the original medical cannabis bill, would, in part, transfer licensing responsibilities from the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to the Alabama Securities Commission.

“The argument there is that this is a lot bigger than this commission was set up to be,” Stacy said. “Maybe the securities commission would be better suited for tackling that problem.”

But Stacy said it’s not clear the revamp will make it through the legislature this year given opposition from companies that already have been granted licenses to produce medical cannabis. Additionally, opposing lawmakers point out there’s no guarantee that further lawsuits over the process wouldn’t be filed under a new system. 

“The perspective of those who oppose this legislation is that, ‘look, yes, it’s not been a perfect process. Yes, it’s been delayed. But let’s just go with what we have. That’s going to be the quickest we can possibly get products to market,’” Stacy said.

A Senate committee approved the revised medical cannabis regulations on Wednesday.

Education budget

A House committee Tuesday passed a record $9 billion education budget with increases for higher education, community colleges and K-12 schools. 

“A lot of this budget is going towards initiatives that are meant to improve student learning,” Stacy said.

Stacy said the budget provides support for literacy and math initiatives to boost achievement in those areas. 

The spending plan also includes a 2% salary increase for education employees, which has been a priority for state leaders.

“We don’t want our graduating teachers going to other states, so raising those teacher salaries to where the starting salary is going to be in the high 50 [thousands],” Stacy said.

Boosting child care

For years, Alabama has had a lower workforce participation rate than most states, something those in Montgomery want to turn around. One way to get more people in the workforce, particularly women, is to expand affordable child care. 

“One big reason why working parents don’t look for jobs is the cost of child care,” Stacy said. “It’s almost a prohibitive cost. It costs so much it’s not worth really having that job and getting that salary.”

This week a House committee took up a bill aimed at tackling the problem. It would offer employers up to $1 million in tax credits to run on-site child care facilities or pay for off-site programs. It also includes tax credits to expand existing day care centers. 

“It’s something everyone is really excited about. The proposal’s been around for a couple of years but now that there’s so much focus on workforce, Alabama’s low workforce participation rate, this idea has really taken off,” Stacy said. “I expect it to pass as soon as next week.”

 

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