On May 4, 2016, Governor Robert Bentley signed into law Alabama House Bill 61, which legalizes the possession or use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil to treat “debilitating medical conditions.” Also known as Leni’s Law, House Bill 61 comes in response to a UAB study finding that CBD oil, which is derived from marijuana plants, can be efficacious in treating chronic seizures. The bill allows for the use of CBD oil only to treat “specified debilitating conditions that produce seizures,” and “is not intended as a generalized authorization of medical marijuana.” Leni’s Law goes into effect on June 1, 2016. Although the law does not require employers to amend zero-tolerance policies to accommodate users of medical marijuana, Alabama employers should keep an eye out for further developments in this area. Some states to have legalized medical marijuana have subsequently passed nondiscrimination provisions protecting medical marijuana users; others have required accommodations for its use. There is no indication to date, however, that Alabama will expand medical marijuana protections beyond the limited scope of Leni’s Law. Employers should be mindful of the following features and impacts of Leni's Law:

  • The law provides an affirmative defense to a criminal charge of unlawful possession of marijuana when (1) the individual possessed CBD oil and (2) the individual either has a debilitating medical condition or is the parent or legal guardian of a minor who has a debilitating medical condition;
  • The law likely does not require employers to amend zero-tolerance policies against unlawful drug use or permit the use of marijuana under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") because the ADA does not protect the use of illegal drugs as defined by federal law;
  • The law likely does not require employers to accommodate the use of medical marijuana;
  • The law does not require insurance plans to pay for or reimburse for CBD prescriptions; and
  • The law does not allow for the prescription, possession, or use of any form of Cannabis other than CBD oil with less than 3% tetrahydrocannabinal.