Alabama mulls over medical marijuana during public hearing
Image by Brandon Colvin/Our360 News
For the third consecutive year, Alabama state Senator Tim Melson, R-Florence, has offered legislation that would legalize medical marijuana in the conservative state. On Wednesday, Alabama's House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on the controversial plant and its future.
Senate Bill 46, in its current form, is arguably the most strict medical marijuana legislation in the nation. The bill includes several standard practices associated with medical legalization including the requirement for patients to hold a physician-approved medical marijuana card and the establishment rules associated with the plant's sale. Melson's legislation, however, goes much further than other states in its regulation of nearly every aspect of the medical marijuana life and business cycle, requiring growers to meet stringent qualifications, including the tracking of each marijuana plant from seed to sale. Also, according to Melson, there will be, “No smokable [marijuana], no raw product, no vaping.”
The majority of the 36 states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal use allow for the sale and use of raw product and vaping oils. Medical conditions that qualify for cannabis use under the Alabama bill include 16 ailments, among them are cancer, anxiety, PTSD, fibromyalgia, menopause, PMS, and sickle-cell anemia. Because smokable marijuana will still be illegal, the plant will only be available as pills, gels, skin patches and creams. Dosage will be capped at 75mg for all patients except the terminally ill.
During Wednesday's hearing, there was no shortage of strong opinions about Alabama's readiness for medical cannabis.
“This is not an attempt to be a lead-in for recreational,” explained Melson. From the start of the meeting, the bill's sponsor made it clear that he is not a proponent of recreational marijuana use. Melson, an anesthesiologist, does acknowledge the value of marijuana in treating certain medical conditions. "We know that there's literature out there to back that, and show that it does help those," Melson told the committee. "I never thought I'd be into this, but as somebody who does research for a living, I just went to the literature, went to Google Scholar and just looked it up."
Chey Garrigan, executive director of the Alabama Cannabis Industry Association, spoke in support of the bill. “We are right in the middle of all of these other states allowing medical cannabis. Florida allows recreational use. People are setting up businesses just across state lines at our border,” said Garrigan.
Garrigan's testimony also appealed to the economic benefits of legalizing the herb. “The farming community has taken a serious interest in hemp and many of the hemp growers would also like to grow medical cannabis. Growing it and selling it here in Alabama, keeps those dollars here with Alabama farmers and the state of Alabama,” Garrigan explained.
Prior to the hearing, Garrigan's organization released a statement criticizing the state's attempt to determine medical eligibility for marijuana patients.
“The decision of what form, how much, or for what illness a patient consumes a cannabis product should be made by the doctor and the patient. Since cannabis medical research is in its infancy and will likely progress quickly, limiting cannabis certificates to which illnesses the legislature dictates will impair health outcomes. The public should not have to lobby for the slow-to-act state legislature to grant permission to add an illness to the law,” said the statement.
Brewton pediatrician and former chair of the Alabama Medical Association,
Dr. Marsha Raulerson, also weighed in on the subject at the hearing, declaring that,
“Medical marijuana is not medicine.” During her testimony, Raulerson emphasized that cannabis interferes with "brain functions, such as memory, attention, and problem solving.”
Phil Williams, the Chief Policy Officer and general counsel at the Alabama Policy Institute, spoke in opposition to the bill as well. Williams is also a former Alabama state senator.
“If this were the aspirin bill, I would still have problems with the bill because of how it is structured,” Williams said. “It violates civil liberties, preempts federal law, violates free market principles, grows government...it raises taxes at unheard of levels,” he continued. “We do not tax medicine in this state, and if we did, the state sales tax is four percent. This is nine percent and more if state and local taxes are charged.”
Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, offered a longer-term view of the legislation and the potential of a marijuana-friendly Alabama. “A lot of the arguments that I am hearing today I also heard against CBD oil,” mused England. “Our [current] regulations encourage illegal use of these substances,” he said.
"We eventually get to a point where things are responsibly managed, and used, and have become helpful, and become part of what every doctor does," England offered, optimistically.
In February, the Alabama Senate approved the bill by a 21-8 vote. Melson's legislation has received Senate approval each year it has been introduced, but the bill has yet to emerge from committee in the Alabama House of Representatives. The Alabama House Judiciary Committee is set to vote on the legislation next week.