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Medical marijuana users tell their stories to Medical Cannabis Study Commission

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, the Medical Cannabis Study Commission held its third meeting. The Commission has been tasked with presenting a policy recommendation to the legislature on exactly what the best medical marijuana bill should look like. The Commission held a public hearing in which a number of medical marijuana users claimed that the drug has benefitted them.

Each speaker was limited to just two minutes time to address the commission.

Helen “Marty” Schelper said that her sister died from the chemotherapy used to treat her breast cancer. Shelper said that since then she has met people who were diagnosed with cancer that no longer have cancer using marijuana extracts. Schelper said that her cannabis advocacy began seven years ago when her sister died. Schelper credited marijuana with successfully treating her Lyme disease.

Amanda Taylor, age 45, said that her Father was murdered when she was a child. She was diagnosed with diabetes at at age 17. At age 25 she was diagnosed with cancer. Later she developed stomach issues that led to chronic vomiting and an insulin pump was installed for her diabetes. At a low point she weighed just 99 pounds and was having to use a handicapped cart to shop for groceries. Someone from Colorado introduced her to marijuana to deal with her potentially fatal, for a diabetic, stomach issues. Because cannabis is illegal in Alabama, even for someone with a medical need she moved to Arizona and is now employed by the medical cannabis industry there.

“I left Alabama because Alabama shut their doors to me,” Taylor said.

While still in Alabama she was able to purchase marijuana on the black market.

“I was using cannabis; but I did not know what I was getting,” Taylor said.

Lee Vessel is an Air Force veteran, who has studied the marijuana literature heavily.

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“There is an epidemic of suicide in my community,” Vessel said. “There are 22 veteran suicides a day.
Vessel said that he is involved in a charity in California that get veterans out of their homes and into activities; but unlike other charities medicinal cannabis was used in those activities.

“In California, I met hundreds if not thousands who said that medical cannabis helped to ease the symptoms of their chronic conditions,” Vessel said. “Unlike opioids it is not an addictive pain killer with the ability to kill via overdose.”

Tina Crim said, “I am 43 years old and I live in Decatur, Alabama. I have multiple health issues. I broke my neck in a car wreck six years ago.”

“They told my family I was going to die,” Crim said. that she could not even keep water down. Her doctor recommended synthetic THC (the active chemical in marijuana). She was reluctant to use it because of the stigma; but it worked and she was able to keep food down.

“Had he not given me that medicine I would not have walked out of that hospital,” Crim said. I and my doctor have fought with the insurance company for years to keep on that medicine. Eventually the insurance stopped paying for the synthetic THC that she was taking and her symptom resumed.

“My husband’s work sent him to California” (where marijuana is legal), Crim said. “I got a medical marijuana card in California. I was eating toast and butter after 14 days. You can’t tell me that medical marijuana does not work.”

“I have a rare blood disease that has taken me to the hospital several times,” Joseph Fannin said. “I began leaving the state to go to Florida (which also legalized medical marijuana) to get treatment. Since I have been back in Alabama I have been getting sick again.”

“This plant is so important not just medically, but for the ecosystem as a whole,” Chera Howard said. “It is good for soul regeneration and good for the environment.”

“I was a UPS driver for 18 years,” David Grantham said. “I stepped off a curb and shattered my ankle. I had five reconstructions on my ankle.”

Grantham developed a complication that inflamed his nerves, “It burns my body inside out.”

Doctors attempted to relieve the pain with prescription pain medication. “I did not know who my parents were,” “Now I go to Colorado and I have doctors in Florida. I am considering moving to Colorado. I smoke it and I am me again. I should not have to leave Alabama.”

“I am tired, my body is tired, my story is I am literally just tired,” Grantham said. “The suicide rate for what I have is about 70 percent,”

“I was supposed to be in a wheelchair years ago,” Grantham said. “I have a spinal chord stimulator in my back. It took me a year to recover from the surgery to put it in and now it needs to be taken out and replaced.”

Timothy Morris said that he is mechanic who has had five bypass surgeries and back surgery. He also has muscle cramps and neuropathy in both legs that is extremely painful.

“In 2010 I tried to go back to work,” Morris said. “It is 100 degree in those shops. I couldn’t do it anymore.”

Morris says that he likes motorcycles; but he has a motorcycle that he can’t ride. “I can’t do it anymore. I have children and grandchildren. I want to do things with them and I can’t do it anymore.”

“I have done marijuana,” Morris said. “I smoked it as a kid, but not medically.”

“I don’t care to take a pill,” Morris said and does not want to take prescription opioids.

“When people scream out we should give help,” Morris said. “I get no help and I am mad. I have lived in Alabama almost my whole life; but maybe I should leave the state.” “The pain that I am in now is ridiculous. It is uncalled for.”

“In June this year I was diagnosed with cancer,” John Day said. “I started chemotherapy and began using medical marijuana to deal with the nausea.”

“I am 56 years old and soon to be grandmother of five,” Michelle Rhodes said. “Frankly I think it is sad that we have to come and beg to use a plant that has been in the food chain for thousands of years.”

“I have been indulging since I was 14 and frankly, I think it is why I have stayed away from the pharmaceuticals. I don’t trust them,” Rhodes said. Rhodes said that her son died from a brain tumor. She believes that conventional medicine killed her son and that marijuana would have been a better treatment.

No one spoke at the public hearing in opposition to legalizing medical marijuana.

State Senator Tim Melson (R-Florence) is an anesthesiologist and the chair of the commission. He introduced medical marijuana legislation last year and intends to introduce it again this year.
“I want your comment and your input,” Melson said of state agencies and law enforcement. “We want to protect employers and employees” who want to have a safe workplace in this bill and wants to hear from law enforcement; but “The time is now. Don’t come to me when we are in session in February.”

Melson said that the bill will be written, “Based on the science not the emotion.”

“The next meeting of the commission will be November 7,” Melson said. “We will have an expert that just got back from Israel who has seen all the latest research. Like me five to six years ago he would not have even considered this.”

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House

Alabama Legislature plans to return to work briefly March 31

Eddie Burkhalter

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The Alabama Senate is planning to get to only a few big, constitutionally mandated items before calling an end to the year’s legislative session amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but whether they’ll get those tasks accomplished remains to be seen. 

Senate leadership is advising lawmakers who fall into “at-risk” categories because of their age or pre-existing medical conditions to not attend the Senate’s meeting when it resumes.

Among the items legislators tentatively plan to tackle before gaveling the session closed sometime in the future are the passage of the Education Trust Fund budget and the General Fund budget, which is the Legislature’s only constitutionally mandated duty.

And “other bills deemed necessary.” 

The state Senate’s Plan of Action, obtained by APR Friday, states that the Senate will meet at 2 p.m. on March 31 for its 14th legislative day. 

“The intent for this legislative day is to advance only essential attendance items and then to adjourn to a date certain for the 15th Legislative Day. April 28 has been discussed with the House,” the plan reads. 

The State Senate’s plan: 

“As leaders, it is imperative that we demonstrate that the business of this state carries on in an orderly and systematic fashion while adhering to the recommendations of our public health officials.

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The Alabama Senate will meet on Tuesday, March 31 at 2:00 pm at the Statehouse in the Senate Chamber as scheduled. This will be the 14th Legislative Day.

The intent for this legislative day is to advance only essential attendance items and then to adjourn to a date certain for the 15th Legislative Day. April 28 has been discussed with the House.

Below is a draft agenda for Tuesday, March 31.

  • Gavel In
  • Pledge and Prayer
  • Roll Call
  • Excuse all Senators
  • Points of Personal Privilege
  • President Pro Tem Marsh
  • Majority Leader Reed
  • Minority Leader Singleton
  • Adjourn to date certain for 15th Legislative Day.

“It is highly recommended that any Senator that falls into any of the at-risk categories stay away from the March 31 Legislative Day,” the plan advises. “However, each Senator’s personal wish will be accommodated.”

Any Senator or staff member that is ill, has been ill, or has been in the same room of anyone that has had any symptom of illness in the 72 hours preceding the March 31 Legislative Day must stay away from the March 31 Legislative Day, according to the Senate’s leadership.

A disinfecting station will be provided under the canopy of the second-floor rear entrance for each senator to disinfect hands and cell phones as they enter the State House and as they leave the Statehouse.

“We must ensure that we practice all Health Department recommendations while at the Statehouse,” the plan reads.

Social distancing will be accomplished by having senators report to their offices by 1:45 p.m. They will then walk into the chamber as the roll is called and then go back to their offices.

“As much separation as possible is required therefore greetings must be verbal only from a distance of 6 feet or greater,” the plan reads.

The remainder of the session will be held possibly Tuesday, April 28 through Monday, May 18.

This timeframe includes three weeks of the session plus the last day of May 18.

A specific plan for meeting more days than normal will be developed and provided prior to the next legislative meeting date.

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House

$200,000 in campaign finance penalties deposited into State General Fund

Staff

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Act 2015-495, which went into effect beginning with the 2018 Election Cycle, allows the Secretary of State’s Office to issue penalties to Political Action Committees (PACs) and Principal Campaign Committees (PCCs) that fail to timely file campaign finance reports.

As of today, the Office of the Secretary of State has collected $202,504.20 which has been deposited into the State General Fund to benefit the people of Alabama.

Conversations with the Senate and House General Fund Chairmen are currently underway to determine the best way to allocate these resources to counties.

Anyone who receives a campaign finance penalty is able to appeal their penalty to the Alabama Ethics Commission who has the authority to overturn a penalty.

“When I campaigned for this office in 2014, I made a promise to the people of Alabama that I would work to see that it is easy to vote and hard to cheat in this state. Since then, we have worked to make the electoral process more fair and transparent through requiring the honest reporting of all PACs and PCCs,” stated Secretary of State John H. Merrill.

Anyone who suspects an individual may be in violation of the Alabama Election Fairness Project is encouraged to report suspicious activity to StopVoterFraudNow.com.

 

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Economy

Daniels: We have to get help to those who need it most

Josh Moon

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There is not enough help coming fast enough to the people struggling the most. 

That was the message from Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, who was asked on the “Alabama Politics This Week” podcast about the efforts of Alabama’s state government to address the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“If you’ve never been poor, you don’t fully comprehend how things like this affect the poor and the unique problems the poor people face,” Daniels said. “I commend Gov. (Kay) Ivey and her staff for working to try and address this crisis the best they can, but I just think there’s a lack of understanding among all of us in some cases of how people need help.” 

To address those issues, at least in part, Daniels is writing a series of letters to different entities, including Ivey, to explain how they can best help the state’s most vulnerable. 

Daniels plans to ask the Alabama Supreme Court to order lower courts to halt foreclosure proceedings and evictions for those affected by coronavirus job losses and illnesses. He also will ask Ivey to intervene with banks on behalf of customers who are falling hopelessly behind on mortgage, car loans and other installment loans. And he will seek additional assistance from the state for borrowers with overwhelming student loan debt. 

“I want people to understand that I’m not criticizing what’s being done or trying to take control, I just hear from these folks on a daily basis and believe there are some better ways to help people,” Daniels said. “President Trump has addressed student loan debt by knocking the interest of those loans, but what does that really do for a person who just lost a job? Or someone who’s had hours and pay cut? We need to pause those payments and give people substantial forgiveness. 

“Otherwise, it’s going to be ugly.”

Democrats in the House also have been putting together potential legislation that could be passed to help the state’s poorest citizens and those who have been laid off from jobs. The specifics of those pieces of legislation weren’t available, but Daniels said they would have the same focus — providing real help for those who need it most. 

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If those bills are anything like the measures taken during the last economic downturn, you can expect a relaxing of rules on social programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and unemployment assistance programs. 

One of the first moves could be overturning a measure passed during the last legislative session that cut the number of weeks of unemployment pay in the state from 26 to 14. State Sen. Arthur Orr sponsored that legislation, and critics argued at the time that a downturn, such as the one that occurred in 2008, could suddenly leave thousands in the state without jobs and job prospects. It passed anyway.

 

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House

Alabama House cancels March 25 committee meetings due to coronavirus

Jessa Reid Bolling

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The Alabama House of Representatives announced on Monday that committee meetings scheduled for Wednesday, March 25 will be cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

The legislative day on March 26 has not technically been cancelled but the House is not expected to have a quorum for that day.

A “quorum” is the minimum number of House members that must be present at any meeting to make the proceedings of that meeting valid. If there are not enough members present, then the meeting cannot proceed and House rules state that the speaker of the House is allowed to set a new date for the meeting. 

The Legislature is currently on an annual spring break. The House and Senate are both expected to reconvene on March 31. According to the statement from the House, a joint decision will be made regarding the future legislative meeting days.

The full statement reads:

“The leadership of the Alabama House of Representatives has made several changes to the upcoming meeting calendar because of the coronavirus crisis in the state.

House committees that were scheduled to meet on Wednesday, March 25, 2020 have been cancelled.

The House is scheduled to meet on Thursday, March 26, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. but no quorum is expected that day.

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Under House Rule 5(b), if there’s no quorum to conduct business during a state of emergency declared by the governor, the speaker of the House is allowed to set the date and time of the next meeting day. 

Both the House and Senate will reconvene on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 and at that time a joint decision will be made as to future legislative meeting days.”

 

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