Could Alabama, N.C. Be First States in South to Legalize Medical Weed?

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Look at a U.S. map highlighting states with medical marijuana laws and one thing clearly stands out: there’s a big hole in the south. It’s the one area of the country that has so far avoided legalizing the use of pot for medical reasons, and it’s not surprising given the region’s history of conservatism.

That could change next year, as there are promising efforts in North Carolina and Alabama to legalize MMJ.

If lawmakers behind these moves get their way – and that’s a big if – it could mark a watershed moment in the medical marijuana movement. Not only would it boost the total number of states allowing MMJ, it would go a long way toward increasing overall acceptance of such laws. In other words, it would move the debate beyond party lines and political leanings. If voters in conservative Republican strongholds approve medical marijuana, there’s no reason other states won’t go this route as well.

Similar bills have been introduced in Southern states and quickly killed in the past. But some observers feel that there’s more support this time around.

Here’s a brief overview of what’s going on each state:

North Carolina – Democratic lawmakers introduced two marijuana bills this year, though the state legislature didn’t get a chance to debate them before it adjourned. That means lawmakers will examine the bills when they return to session next year. One bill would shield patients who register with the state and get a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana from arrests for possession while also clearing the way for the introduction of regulated dispensaries. The other bill calls for classifying marijuana possession as an infraction rather than a misdemeanor and reduce penalties to a simple fine.

Alabama – Republican Rep. K.L. Brown has said he intends to introduce a bill next year in Alabama that would clear the way for medical marijuana. Brown saw the benefits of medical pot first-hand: His sister used the drug to ease her pain while battling (and ultimately succumbing to) cancer more than two decades ago. The Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition is helping out with the bill.