Legislative Wrap-Up: Medical Marijuana, Yoga Bills Gain Traction

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Miranda Fulmore, WBHM

Alabama lawmakers during the 2021 legislative session.

The push to legalize medical marijuana is gaining momentum in the Alabama Legislature. The bill would allow people with certain conditions to buy medical marijuana with a doctor’s approval. To start this week’s legislative wrap-up, Don Dailey, host of Alabama Public Television’s Capitol Journal, tells us there are a few hurdles to overcome among House lawmakers.

The medical marijuana bill is in the House where it was expected to run into some serious roadblocks. What were the major sticking points this week?

Regulation of medical marijuana continues to be a big concern for a lot of lawmakers, the commission, which would oversee not only the dispensaries which would sell the medical marijuana, but the determining of who qualifies to be prescribed medical marijuana. And then, of course, there’s the long running concern over whether this legislation might be a gateway to increased recreational use of marijuana in the state. But slowly but surely, this legislation seems to be gaining a little bit of traction this year. It has a tougher road in the House because it’s having to be vetted by two committees. The House Judiciary Committee this week approved the legislation; it now goes to the House Health Committee for the same vetting. And if it’s passed there, then it would ultimately go to the House floor. But as you alluded to, the House is where this legislation has run into trouble in previous years. It’s gotten out of the Senate at least twice, including this year. So its road ahead on the full House floor remains to be seen.

Worth noting it’s pretty unusual for a bill to have to be approved by two separate committees before the full House or Senate can consider it, yes? 

It is an unusual move and the fact that it’s going through the [House] Judiciary and Health committees raised some eyebrows, but because there have been so many questions raised on this issue in the House previously, leadership felt it should be vetted by two committees, maybe to reassure people.

News this week of Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill’s extramarital affair with a legal assistant at a Montgomery law firm caused a bit of a stir. Merrill says he will not run for elected office next year. He was expected to run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Richard Shelby. What did lawmakers have to say about the whole thing?

It was a big topic of conversation at the State House on Thursday, the day after these revelations first surfaced. Gov. Ivey, of course, issued a statement on late Wednesday expressing concern over the news reports and citing poor decisions are never a good thing. The chairman of the state Republican Party also expressed concern over the allegations. Lawmakers like Rep. Juandalynn Givan of Birmingham were saying on Thursday the allegations, at least in her mind, raised serious questions about John Merrill’s ability to continue to lead as secretary of state. The allegations came as a bombshell to many. And John Merrill has said that he intends to round out his tenure as secretary of state.

There was a debate over yoga in schools in the state Senate this week. Yoga, to a lot of people’s surprise, is banned in Alabama and efforts to lift that ban have failed in previous years.  Bring us up to speed on what happened this week.

The yoga bill continues to advance. Rep. Jeremy Gray of Opelika, who is a former professional football player and practitioner of yoga himself, has been pushing this bill for several years running. It’s been passed by the House and this week it cleared another legislative hurdle in getting out of a Senate committee, which next sends it to the Senate floor. Rep. Gray says it’s all about health and well-being for kids in Alabama public schools. He was surprised to learn a while back that public schools banned yoga over 20 years ago amid concerns, among other things, of its ties to Eastern religions. And that is a point that has come up in the ongoing debate over this bill. But Rep. Gray says he’s feeling good, that the bill seems to be gaining momentum and that his message about health and well-being are getting through to a majority.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

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