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Alabama GOP governor signs medical marijuana bill into law

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on May 17, 2012, signs a bill legalizing medical marijuana as State Sen. Tim Melson watches. (Photo Provided/Office of Governor Kay Ivey)

(CNN) — Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law on Monday a bill legalizing medical marijuana in the state.

Ivey called Senate Bill 46, dubbed the Darren Wesley “Ato” Hall Compassion Act, an “important first step” and thanked state Sen. Tim Melson and state Rep. Mike Ball, who co-sponsored the legislation in their chambers, for their hard work to address what she called “legitimate concerns.”

“This is certainly a sensitive and emotional issue and something that is continually being studied,” Ivey said in a statement. “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.”

Legalizing medical marijuana in the conservative state comes as a number of state legislatures are revamping cannabis laws. Elsewhere in the South, Virginia recently made simple possession of marijuana will be legal beginning July 1, and Mississippi residents voted to create a medical marijuana program during the November election.

Alabama is the 37th state to approve of medical marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The law creates a medical cannabis commission to regulate, license and oversee distribution of medical marijuana. Doctors can prescribe medical marijuana for several conditions including cancer, a terminal illness, epilepsy and chronic pain. Patients will also receive medical cannabis cards, and vaping or smoking of medical marijuana would be prohibited while products including gummies, oils or creams are allowed.

Alabama’s State Legislature voted to legalize medical marijuana earlier this month.

The House version of SB 46 passed 68-34 in the chamber with bipartisan support after a vote on the measure had first been blocked by Republicans during a nearly nine-hour debate. The Senate, which initially passed the measure in February, approved of the House’s amendments to the legislation in a 20-9 vote, with one abstention.

Marijuana advocates praised the law on Monday, calling it a victory for the state.

“This is a major step forward for Alabamians,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement. “Rather than being subjected to arrest and criminal penalties for using medical cannabis, this new law will enable patients who are suffering from illnesses and medical conditions to safely use and access medical cannabis, a treatment option that is accessible to so many of their fellow Americans. “

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