Alabama House Speaker: No recreational use of marijuana for ‘at least four years’

As Alabama prepares to roll out its medical marijuana program, one state leader is quashing any hope that the state could consider recreational use anytime soon.

Alabama House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, told a group of reporters Tuesday that the state is “many years away” for recreational marijuana use to be even considered by state lawmakers.

How many years?

“We are at least four years from that,” Ledbetter said.

Why four years? Ledbetter said that is the duration of his term as the leader of the Alabama House. Alabama does not allow citizen initiatives, so a referendum to allow for recreational use of marijuana would require the Legislature’s approval.

“The Speaker won’t allow it on the floor,” he said.

Ledbetter’s comments mirror similar comments expressed by Republican leaders since the state’s medical marijuana law was approved in 2021. Alabama Democrats support legalization and decriminalization. Almost one year ago on 4/20, they launched a website called “Free Weed.”

Threat to children

Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, but states have been approving initiatives to legalize it over the last decade. Colorado and Washington were the first states to approve recreational marijuana use for adults in 2012.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 21 states have legalized adult use of recreational marijuana. None of those states are in the South. The closest state that allows for the sale of marijuana for recreational use is right-leaning Missouri, where 53% of voters backed the legalization of marijuana during the November 2022 election.

But voters in three other Republican-dominated states – Arkansas, South Dakota, and North Dakota – defeated referendums during the last election to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

Legislation in Arkansas has surfaced to have voters reconsider the legalization in 2024, despite more than 56% voting against it during the 2022 election. Opponents in those states argued against the threat of recreational use of marijuana by children.

In some Alabama cities, the debate over whether medical marijuana dispensaries should locate in their cities have been intertwined with fears over recreational use.

Related content: Medical marijuana products expected in Alabama late this year or early next year

In Fairhope, city officials voted against allowing a medical marijuana dispensary last fall after opponents fretted over the potential of medical marijuana products potentially getting into the hands of children.

Medical marijuana ‘tweaks’

Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission

The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission meets on Sept. 8, 2022 in Montgomery. (Mike Cason/

Ledbetter said he anticipates some “tweaks” surfacing within the next two months on the state’s medical marijuana law passed in 2021, and which he supported. The program is slowly developing as the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission oversees the rollout of licenses to administer the program. The state commission is reviewing 90 applications from companies vying to cultivate, transport, process, test and dispense medical cannabis.

At the State House, lawmakers could push changes to the program before its expected beginning sometime in early 2024.

“I think we’ll see something to tweak the program,” Ledbetter said. “I would suspect it.”

The most notable piece of legislation is HB227, introduced on April 4 by freshman state Rep. David Cole, R-Madison. His bill defines what kinds of conditions a physician can certify a patient for medical marijuana and requires the physician to be board certified in the field of specialty required to diagnose a qualifying medical condition.

Under the medical marijuana law, Alabama doctors with training in medical cannabis will be able to recommend products for more than a dozen conditions – autism spectrum disorder, cancer-related pain such as weight loss and vomiting, Crohn’s Disease, depression, epilepsy or conditions causing seizures, HIV/AIDs-related nausea and weight loss, panic disorder, Parkinson’s Disease, persistent nausea, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sickle cell amenia, spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis or spinal injury, Tourette’s Syndrome, a terminal illness, and conditions causing chronic or intractable pain.

Under Cole’s bill, cancer-related conditions must be diagnosed by an oncologist and include documentation that conventional medical treatment has failed. For Chron’s Disease, the bill requires a diagnosis by a gastroenterologist, after documentation indicates conventional medical treatment failed for three years.

Other ailments also include specifics that do not exist in the original law. More examples include:

  • Depression diagnosed by a psychiatrist, after documentation indicates that conventional medical treatment has failed for three years, and the individual is unable to work.
  • HIV/AIDS-related nausea or weight loss lasting for a period over two years.
  • Parkinson’s disease, after documentation indicates that conventional medical treatment has failed for three years, and the individual is unable to work.
  • Persistent nausea after that conventional medical treatment has failed for three years, and the individual is unable to work.

The legislation also removes PTSD from a list of ailments eligible for medical marijuana, but allows medical marijuana use after documentation indicates that conventional medical treatment has failed for three years.

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