In recent years, Alabama politics have been notoriously combative, slow-moving, and occasionally corrupt. However, there is one person able to unite Alabama lawmakers. Her name is Carly, and she’s three years old.

Gov. Robert Bentley signed Carly’s Law on April 1, 2014, which legalized the use of a marijuana-derived oil, called cannabidiol or CBD oil, for medicinal use in Alabama. Its namesake, Carly Chandler of Birmingham, suffers from severe seizures which can be alleviated by the oil. In other cases similar to Carly’s, CBD oil has been able to reduce seizures from hundreds of times a week to a few times a month.

“This was extraordinary for Alabama. It passed the first time, which virtually none of our bills do. There weren’t any, ‘no,’ votes. Everyone was excited about it, and it was a bipartisan effort. It was truly historic,” said Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, co-sponsor of the bill.

Todd became interested in this legislation after she was approached by Carly’s father, Dustin. Todd had introduced bills involving medical marijuana before, though none were successful.

“I’ve been an advocate of medical marijuana for years, so I was the obvious choice for him to contact. We met for lunch, and he told me about Carly. It’s a compelling story involving children, and as I got into it, I knew it would have a broad appeal,” Todd said.

Todd then sought bipartisan cooperation. “The Republicans controlled the legislature, so I needed to find a Republican that wanted the bill.  Turns out there was another child in north Alabama who would benefit, and Mike Ball supported the bill. I knew it would have a better chance of passing if he sponsored it, so we worked together.”

After overcoming some initial hurdles, the bill passed unanimously and was signed. In order to implement the law, the University of Alabama at Birmingham will create a cannabidiol program for research and treatment of debilitating seizures. The Cannabidiol Program will be established by the UAB Department of Neurology, under chair Dr. David Standaert, Ph.D.

“We are honored that the state’s elected officials have entrusted this responsibility to UAB…This research will be invaluable in the search for ways to prevent seizures, or minimize their effects, and UAB will continue to work with neurologists across the state to identify and treat patients in need of this therapy,” said Dr. Standaert in a statement.

However, relief for children like Carly will not come immediately. The program must meet regulatory requirements of the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the University’s Institutional Review Board. The approvals that must be obtained before the program can be launched could take six months or longer.

Todd believes that as knowledge about the curative properties of marijuana grows through research at institutions like UAB, support for medical marijuana legalisation will grow.

“The benefits of this plant are just amazing. It can improve quality of life, appetite, and can help with all sorts of conditions. I think once people see the benefits, there will be incredible support in the future for more laws like this,” said Todd.

When asked if the passage of Carly’s Law could possibly lead to the legalisation of recreational marijuana in the future, Todd replied, “Absolutely. Marijuana advocates have unlocked the door with this law.”

However, it’s doubtful that marijuana dispensaries will pop up next to barbecue joints in Alabama anytime soon. One of the key factors in the passage of Carly’s Law was that CBD oil cannot be used to get high. In addition, the oil is used for a specific and clearly outlined medical purpose. Though it’s likely this law has paved the way for more medical marijuana bills, recreational legalization is less likely.

However, one thing that could tempt Alabama lawmakers into legalizing recreational marijuana is tax money from the sale of marijuana. Alabama is the sixth poorest state in the nation, and in need of revenue.

In Colorado, the tax total reported by the state Department of Revenue states that $14.02 million worth of recreational pot was sold from 59 businesses in three months. The state collected roughly $2.01 million in taxes. The marijuana taxes come from 12.9 percent sales taxes and 15 percent excise taxes.

The lure of tax dollars, combined with burgeoning public support, could influence Alabama lawmakers in this direction. Support for legalization is gaining support swiftly across the nation. Currently, there are 21 states who have legalized medical marijuana, with eight states who have pending legislation. A Gallup poll from October 2013 showed that a majority of Americans favored legalizing marijuana. The 58% of respondents who said they were in favor of legalization last year is five times the amount of people in favor in 1969, the first time the survey was taken.

Alabama also has the opportunity to see how legislation of both medical and recreational marijuana has affected other states. Many opponents of legalization believe that it will increase crime. However, according to data from the Denver Police Department, violent crime (including homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) fell by 6.9% in the first quarter of 2014, compared with the same period in 2013. Property crime (including burglary, larceny, auto theft, theft from motor vehicle and arson) dropped by 11.1%. Though these results are not conclusive, they have defied expectations.

The passage of Carly’s Law has demonstrated the best of Alabama politicians; swift, bipartisan action to improve the lives of their residents. It proved that the legislature still has the ability to pleasantly surprise their constituents. In the future, this state could surprise the nation.

Patients seeking an appointment with the UAB cannabidiol program can call 205-975-8883 or e-mail for more information.

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