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Marijuana Study Commission considers tough medical marijuana bill

Brandon Moseley

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medical marijuana

Monday, the Alabama Marijuana Study Commission met for the second time to consider making a recommendation to the state legislature on legalizing medical marijuana

The Committee is Chaired by State Senator Tim Melson (R-Florence), who introduced medical marijuana legislation during the 2019 legislative session. His legislation passed the Senate, but ran into heavy opposition in committee in the House. As a compromise, the legislature substituted that bill for one creating the Commission, which is supposed to propose legislation to the legislature before the 2020 legislative session.

The members were widely divided on what legislation should look like and even if there needs to be medical marijuana in Alabama.

Thomas “Tommy” Eden III is a labor law attorney in Auburn and a member of the Commission.

Eden complained that since medical marijuana has become legal in other states it has become more difficult for his corporate clients to maintain their drug free workplaces. Eden warned that 15 states that have legalized medical marijuana have since passed card holder protection laws that prevent employers from taking action against employees for having a card.

“The blanket no marijuana policy is under siege,” Eden warned. Corporate policies are being overridden by state laws. Marijuana causes an inability to accurately gauge lengths of time and distance meaning that workers jumping from one scaffold to another for example misgauge the jump and can be insured. Marijuana leads to impairment of hearing and vision, an inability to cope with sudden changes in surrounding and or emergency situations, a loss of balance, decreased motor coordination, decreased cognitive reasoning, hallucinations, and a non-caring uncommitted unconcerned attitude such as not wearing safety gear.

Sen. Melson said that those people were mostly using marijuana recreationally, not medically prescribed. Melson also said that there were no plans to introduce cardholder protection laws in Alabama.

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Eden said that there were 5147 fatal injuries at work in this country in 2017. Half of these were transportation-related, but 900 workers were killed in 2017 from falls and slips, which have been climbing in recent years.

“Fatal falls were at the highest level in 26 years of the report. What is happening in our society to become more clumsy,” Eden asked. He felt that the rise of medical marijuana was responsible.
Melson said that most of the people who would be able to get marijuana under this bill “are not even in the workforce.”

“For three decades drug testing has been a critical part of employer efforts to maintain a drug free workplace,” Eden warned. “Drug use is a significant workplace threat.”

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Eden recounted an incident in which two Conrail locomotive engineers were responsible for a train crash with an Amtrak train killing 16 people because they were smoking marijuana.

Melson said that inhalation of marijuana will not be allowed in this bill.

“Deterrence of workers from using illegal drugs has been a major goal prevention goal of drug testing,” Eden added. Marijuana users are less productive at work, have higher absenteeism, are more likely to change jobs three times or more in the last year, are less dedicated employees, have higher rates of tardiness, and have 85 percent more injuries. “Nine percent of all marijuana users develop an addiction to the drugs.”

Eden warned adolescent who use marijuana are six time more likely to drop out of school, are three times more likely not to go to college, and that marijuana leads to a diminished IQ of six to eight points.
Melson said that adolescents are already getting marijuana and this bill does nothing to legalize that/
Dr. Stephen Taylor, a child psychiatrist on the Commission, warned that by calling marijuana medicine it was encouraging children to use it.

Eden warned that there are twelve states that allow recreational marijuana, all of them allowed medical marijuana first.

“It is a huge cost for an employer to deal with medical and recreational marijuana,” Eden said. “There are people dying in the workplace because they are impaired, I think Alabama has a huge competitive advantage in economic development by not adopting a marijuana statute.”

Melson promised to let Eden write the law so that employers will not be harmed by this.

“My concern is that marijuana still kills,” Eden said. “Rod Bramlett was killed by a 16-year-old,” who was using marijuana.

Melson said, “An 80-year-old with pancreatic cancer should not be denied because a 16-year-old was stupid.”
Melson said that this bill was designed to help people at the end state of life.

“I too have compassion for that 60-year-old with ALS, but being overzealous in compounds that have not been adequately tested we will do more harm than good,” Dr. Taylor said.

Melson said that the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) is a flawed process that has approved drugs that have done a lot of harm.

Shelby County District Attorney Jill Lee asked, “What is the endpoint in this? How do we keep Alabama from inching toward recreational?”

“I promise that I will do everything I can to stop that from happening,” Melson said/

The next meeting of the commission will be on Nov. 7.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Congress

Republicans blast Jones for refusal to even consider Trump nominee

Brandon Moseley

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Republicans criticized U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Friday for saying that he would not vote to confirm any nominee by President Donald Trump before the Nov. 3 election.

Alabama Republican Party chair Terry Lathan called Jones’s announcement “disgraceful.”

“It’s disgraceful that Senator Jones is dismissing his duties when he announced he would not support the confirmation of any Supreme Court justice nominee put forth by President Trump prior to the November election,” Lathan said in a statement. “The Constitution of our country clearly states that the President ‘shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint…judges of the Supreme Court…’”

“At the very least, Senator Jones owes Alabamians the simple courtesy of meeting with the nominee regardless of what he already plans to do,” Lathan continued. “It’s time for him to do his job, at least until November 3rd.”

“The people of our great state have spoken,” Lathan concluded. “The majority support President Trump and his policies which includes the conservative judges he has nominated for the federal bench. However, Doug Jones continues to ignore the wishes of the majority of his constituents and falls in line with his liberal party bosses, Hollywood supporters and New York fundraisers. On Election Day, Alabamians will give their advice and consent to remove Doug Jones from office. Tommy Tuberville will represent the majority’s values when he is elected as our next U.S. Senator.”

On Friday, Jones was asked if he would even meet with the nominee. His response was, “I don’t think my vote’s going to count, so I doubt they’ll even want to.”

“The President’s nominee hasn’t even been announced but anti-Trump Democrat Doug Jones has already made up his mind against the person,” said NRSC spokesperson Paige Lindgren. “Refusing to take part in a consequential Supreme Court confirmation process is the latest example that Jones has one foot out the door. He’s clearly no longer focused on representing the people of Alabama.”

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Former State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr., a Trump supporter, said that Jones votes against “everything that the people of Alabama believe in.”

“Doug Jones has consistently voted against the President and everything the good people of Alabama believe in.” Hooper said. “Jones is against the 2nd Amendment, he is for government funded abortions and he is a globalist. Alabama needs to send a strong pro-life, pro-business, pro-Trump and pro-American to Washington DC. And that man is Coach Tommy Tuberville.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has vowed to bring the president’s pick to the floor of the Senate for a vote.

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“Thank God for Senator Mitch McConnell,” Hooper said. “Senator McConnell has 51 votes to confirm the President’s nominee to the US Supreme Court.”

Conservatives are hopeful that a more conservative court will vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court precedent that prevents state governments from banning abortions.

“Senator Doug Jones betrayed Alabamians when he voted against Justice Kavanaugh and has betrayed them again today, before President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee has even been named,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement. “During his short time in office, Jones has proven to be an extremist, repeatedly siding against constituents and voting with the most radical members of his party – like Kamala Harris – in favor of abortion on demand through birth, paid for by taxpayers. Asked about his stance on limiting late-term abortions more than halfway through pregnancy, Senator Jones laughed and called the issue ‘stupid.’ Jones is unfit to represent the pro-life, pro-Trump state of Alabama and will be held accountable at the ballot box.”

Many media sources are reporting that Trump will appoint Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amy Comey Barrett to fill the vacancy on the court left by the death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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Josh Moon

Redemption not revenge drives Tuberville supporter

Josh Moon

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Edgar McGraw speaking at a Tommy Tuberville event.

It would make for a great political story if Edgar McGraw hated Jeff Sessions. In fact, it would be the kind of legendary story of revenge that TV movies are built around.

This man, Edgar McGraw, is arrested on drug distribution charges in 1986 and prosecuted by then-U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions. Sessions takes everything from McGraw and gives gleeful media interviews bragging about the arrest and seizures of McGraw’s property.

McGraw gets out of prison, rebuilds his life and becomes a respected, successful business owner. All the while, biding his time until the day he can exact revenge upon Sessions.

One day in 2020, he sees his chance: A former college football coach in a football-crazed state is running against Sessions for U.S. Senate. McGraw throws some money to the coach, hosts a fundraiser for him.

And the coach does the unthinkable. He upsets the 30-year politician. With McGraw’s help, Jeff Sessions’ career is over.

McGraw smiles.

But real life ain’t like the movies.

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And in real life, Edgar McGraw has none of these dreams of revenge. He holds no ill will. He wasn’t gleeful the night Sessions lost, instead he was glad his friend Tommy Tuberville won. And he didn’t back Tuberville because he was running against Sessions, but because McGraw and Tuberville were friends long before Tuberville dipped a toe into politics.

That’s life, I guess. You go looking for a revenge story and end up with a redemption story.

“(The conviction) is water under the bridge to me,” McGraw said. “I made my fair share of mistakes, I paid the price, and I have moved on with my life. I believe every single person makes mistakes in life, but how you respond to those mistakes and live life afterward is what really matters. As Dr. Tony Evans says ‘everyone is going to get knocked down in life in one way or another, what’s important is how you get back up.’

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“I never look back, that is just my personality. Just like you don’t drive a car looking in the rear-view mirror, I am always looking forward.”

I first heard about McGraw’s history a week ago, when someone sent me photos of Tuberville speaking at an event, McGraw standing by his side. McGraw was labeled a “felon” in a description with the picture, and that piqued my interest.

I read through a few newspaper articles about his arrest in the 1980s on drug distribution charges, and I thought it was possibly one of the craziest things I’ve come across in quite some time.

Basically, the story is this: McGraw, who was a successful businessman in Camden even in the 1980s, conspired with a handful of people to fly about $2 million worth of marijuana from Jamaica to a private air strip in Camden. The weed was going to McGraw’s farm, according to court records, where it would have been distributed and sold.

It never made it.

Drug dealers apparently aren’t great at physics, and $2 million in 1980 bought a lot of marijuana — approximately 1,400 pounds — that needed to be equally distributed around the small plane. Instead, according to media reports, the guys in Jamaica — McGraw wasn’t one of them — failed to secure the load and it all shifted to the tail of the plane. The plane crashed into a marsh on takeoff.

Still, Sessions and the U.S. Attorney’s Office were able to build a case with several informants and by flipping witnesses. And they went hard after McGraw, who maintained that he had a limited role. The federal jury that convicted McGraw of conspiracy to distribute also acquitted him of conspiring to import the weed, so there was obviously some gray area.

Regardless, Sessions went after McGraw’s property, utilizing recent and broad changes to asset seizure laws in the late-1980s that allowed prosecutors to tie virtually any property to drug money and then seize it. The federal government, with little evidence, took McGraw’s motel, the Southern Inn in Camden. It was one of the biggest asset seizures in the country at the time.

McGraw ended up being sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served less than half of that and prison records show he was released in 1992.

When I learned of McGraw’s history, I tweeted a couple of the newspaper clippings and speculated that McGraw had thoroughly enjoyed Tuberville ending Sessions’ political career. Because, I mean, Sessions took the guy’s motel — for marijuana that didn’t even get here.

He has to hate him, right?

Then I emailed McGraw to ask if he’d be willing to talk to me about it. I expected one of two things to occur: Either he would ignore me altogether or he’d accept the interview and express his great personal satisfaction.

He did neither.

Instead, McGraw told me the same story that he’s been telling at the Christmas party for Camden work release inmates. He volunteers with a Christian ministry that works with the prisoners. And each year, McGraw, who now is best known as part owner of the McGraw-Webb Chevrolet dealership in Camden, stands up in front of those inmates and lets them know that there is a pathway to redemption. To a better life. To a happy life.

“What happened coming up on almost 35 years ago, seems like a lifetime ago,” McGraw said. “My faith grew immeasurably during those years and the Lord has blessed me immensely since. I have been happily married for 27 years and I have three wonderful children; 26, 25 and 21 years old. I would want people to know to not let the past mistakes in life mold you. Brokenness can be a breakthrough.

“I feel like I am one of the most blessed people in the world and I give God all the credit. I would hope that I would be thought of as someone who came back home, worked very hard and served his community, church, and family to the absolute best of my God given ability.”

As far as his dealings with Sessions, McGraw said he’s had very little. While he clearly disagrees with Sessions’ decisions in his case — all McGraw would say is that he’d leave that up to Sessions to answer for — he said he’s spoken to the former U.S. AG just once in the past three decades. That meeting came at an Auburn basketball game, where McGraw introduced himself and reminded Sessions of their past. McGraw said the conversation was cordial and lasted only a few minutes.

He swears he holds no ill will towards Session at this point. His support of Tuberville had nothing to do with his history, or even politics really. Records show McGraw has donated to only one campaign in his life — Tuberville’s. And that came about because the two are old friends.

“My relationship with Tommy Tuberville began sometime while he was coaching at Auburn,” McGraw said. “We became friends with the Tubervilles as our sons became close friends while attending Auburn University and our friendship has grown since. Our family made our first contribution to Tuberville in April of 2019. I want to be very clear that my support of Tommy Tuberville was only influenced by our friendship and his political views and had nothing to do with Jeff Sessions.”

And maybe that’s for the best.

2020 has more than its fair share of nasty political stories, revenge stories and just plain ol’ dirtiness. Maybe a good story of redemption is something we could all use at this point. Maybe what we need to hear is the message that McGraw gives to those 100 or so inmates each year at Christmas.

“I strive to give (them) the hope that whatever they have done in the past does not have to limit their future,” McGraw said. “I learned to take nothing for granted and that every single day is a gift from above.”

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Elections

Merrill gives guidance on straight party, write-in voting

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill issued guidance Wednesday on straight party and write-in voting.

“Voters who wish to vote straight party for all of the Democratic or Republican candidates on their ballot may do so by filling in the bubble next to their party preference at the top of their ballot,” Merrill explained in a statement.

“If a voter wishes to vote for any candidate outside of the selected party, however, he or she may do so by filling in the bubble next to the preferred candidate’s name. In doing so, the candidate(s) voted on outside of the voter’s designated party ballot will receive the vote for that particular race.

In addition, if a voter wishes to write-in a candidate, he or she may do so by filling in the bubble next to the box marked ‘Write-in’ and then printing the name of the preferred candidate on the designated line.

Write-in votes must be hand-written and not stamped or otherwise artificially applied to the ballot.”

Sample ballots for the Nov. 3 general election are available online.

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Economy

SNAP replacement benefits coming to three counties hit by Hurricane Sally

Staff

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Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Thousands of SNAP recipients in Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia counties are set to receive automatic replacement benefits as a result of Hurricane Sally, the Alabama Department of Human Resources announced Thursday.

Recipients who received their benefits Sept. 1 through Sept. 16 will receive a replacement of 50 percent of their regular monthly benefit. Those who received supplemental pandemic maximum allotment payments will receive a replacement of 30 percent of those benefits.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service approved the replacement benefits today at the request of DHR. The benefits are intended to replace food purchased with SNAP that was lost to widespread power outages caused when Hurricane Sally made landfall on Sept. 16.

“Our priority is to remove the very real threat of hunger for the many Alabamians who are struggling from the devastation of Hurricane Sally,” said Alabama DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner. “The first step toward that goal is to replace the food that so many Alabamians lost to the storm. We are actively working to obtain additional resources to provide much-needed relief for the region as it recovers.”

Hurricane Sally caused over 265,000 households to lose power for at least four hours in Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia counties, where approximately 54,000 households will receive SNAP benefits totaling an estimated $8.5 million.

Those recipients should expect to see the replacement benefits automatically loaded onto their EBT cards next week.

The Food Assistance Division of DHR administers the SNAP program in Alabama.

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More information about the program can be found at dhr.alabama.gov/food-assistance.

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