Ala. medical marijuana bill passes first hurdle in state legislature

Ala. medical marijuana bill passes first hurdle in state legislature

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - A Senate Judiciary Committee passed a medical marijuana bill 8-1 Wednesday morning. The bill would regulate medical marijuana from seed to sale. It would allow people with certain medical conditions to have access to medical marijuana.

There are 15 qualifying conditions that include epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, and chronic pain.

The bill would allow qualifying individuals to receive a card from the Medical Cannabis Commission. In order to receive a card, the individual would need to register with the commission and receive approval from a qualifying physician. It would also set up 34 dispensaries across the state.

“I wouldn’t have carried this three or four years ago,” said Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, who is the bill sponsor.

Melson has said he believes the bill is one of the strongest in the country.

“The abuse potential is not there from the way this is set up,” he said.

Proponents and opponents spoke at the public hearing Wednesday. Cristi Cain spoke, who spoke at the hearing and is the mother of a son diagnosed with epilepsy, said her son used to have 100 seizures a day. They tried medication, but Cain said it did not help.

"We decided we would pursue using cannabis with THC. Within weeks of beginning cannabis, we saw cognitive improvement,” she said.

They use the treatment through Leni’s law. Her son now has 30 seizures a day.

“If Hardy didn’t live in Alabama, he would be seizure-free,” Cain said. “We don’t want to be medical refugees.”

Cynthia Atkinson talked about her husband, Dan Atkinson, who had extreme twisting cramps in his legs for a year. Atkinson was a meteorologist at WSFA 12 News. He died in 2017.

“The pain was so bad” they decided to go to Colorado, Atkinson said at the hearing. They used patches that included CBD and THC and within 15 to 20 minutes his legs relaxed.

“The synthetic drugs and opioids were racking his body. If we would have had this option, he might have seen his son graduate today,” Atkinson said.

Caleb Crosby with the Alabama Policy Institute spoke against the bill saying it would cause unintended consequences. The group is concerned about the growth of government and the limiting of individual’s rights.

“The draft legislation, as reviewed, grows government, adds taxes at rates not seen before, removes due process protections, allows for warrantless search and seizure, violates federal law, and promotes a medically-prescribed substance that is not FDA approved,” a report by the Alabama Policy Institute said.

Capt. Clay Hammock also spoke against it and shared his concerns during the Medical Cannabis study commission.

“It is an incremental step toward the decriminalization of a billion-dollar industry,” Hammock said. “There has not been an objective approach to the research of the bill or the impacts it would have on public safety.”

Hammock stood in line with Attorney General Steve Marshall, who shared his opposition to the legislation.

There were concerns prior to the hearing about Workers’ Compensation. However, Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said several approved amendments Tuesday ironed out many of the kinks.

Several lawmakers showed concern for the commission’s ability to add health qualifications to the list.

Sen. Larry Stutts, whose is a physician, was concerned for the broad conditions on the list, including anxiety. He also was concerned that this bill would circumvent the FDA process.

“There is no other drug that we have to put the word medical in front of it to say it’s medical. We don’t say medical Tylenol,” Stutts said.

Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, said she would vote it out of committee but wanted to review the bill again before deciding whether to approve it on the Senate floor. Other lawmakers shared a similar sentiment.

The bill now heads to the full Senate where Melson says he has the votes to pass it, though he admits “anything can change.” The senator says he will try to get the legislation on the calendar for the next week.

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