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Medical experts sharply divided at Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, the Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission heard from two highly respected medical expert witnesses with widely divergent views on the wisdom of passing medical marijuana legislation.

Bertha K. Madras is a professor of psychobiology in the Department of Psychiatry and the chair of the Division of Neurochemistry at Harvard Medical School, She served as associate director for public education in the division on addictions at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Madras advised the Commission against passing medical marijuana legislation.

Dr. Bertha Madras said that evidence of marijuana being used medically can be traced as far back as 1600 years ago with the discovery of a woman who died in childbirth due to a breach.

Madras said that the state passing medical marijuana legislation “Puts the entire drug approval system at risk.”
“Marijuana is not safe for you: all measures are worse,” Dr. Madras said, “Marijuana is not the solution for the opioid crisis.”

Dr. Madras pleaded with legislators to let the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) make the rules for medical marijuana and not go around the federal government by passing state legislation legalizing marijuana as medicine without doing the scientific research and trials necessary to get drugs approved by the FDA. Thousands of, “People died until we had the FDA.”

Madras said that the proper research has not been done on things such as proper drug delivery and that the marijuana industry is selling products that can be delivered by: “smoke, vape, eat, drink, IV, and cream. “What about Specific populations? Pregnant women? Elderly?”

Madras warned that this is not your father’s marijuana, “The THC has risen to as high as 90 percent” in some products.

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Madras warned that marijuana is, “Addictive.” She also warned that it produces intoxication and impairs cognitive functions and that its use can lead to anxiety and produce a psychotic reaction. Madras warned that the drug is not safe for youth and that opioid addicts generally start using marijuana. She argued that there is not enough evidence to use marijuana as a treatment to prevent opioid dependency.

Madras argued that what the state would be doing would be detrimental to the FDA system and that the state should not approve legalization until the FDA approves its use/ She did say that she was not for keeping cancer patients from having it though.

“Medicine is trusted because of its scientific base and tight regulation,” Madras said and that medical marijuana, “Is the least regulated medical drug in the U.S. and should be held to medical standards.”

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Madras argued against using cannabis to treat pain issues saying that “Pain is an undecipherable medical condition,” and warned that the amount of marijuana needed to treat pain and the amount needed to produce euphoria overlap.

The crowd attending the hearing included many persons there to support medical marijuana and a number of people there scoffed at Dr. Madras’s assertions.

Dr. Alan Shackelford made the case for allowing medical cannabis.

Shackleford claimed that he had one elderly patient who was using multiple opioids daily to treat her chronic pain issues and through medical cannabis can tap dance now.

“When Colorado passed medical cannabis regulations in Colorado I knew very little about it,” Dr Shackleford said. But has studied the issue and has found a number of applications for the drug in his medical practice.

Shackleford said that the Colorado medical cannabis law allowed using the drug to treat: Cancer, HIV/Aids, glaucoma, cachexia, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, and persistent muscle spasms. PTSD was added in June 2017 and autism was added in April 2019.

“I practice evidence based medicine,” Dr. Shackelford claimed.

Shackelford said that there was a paper showing that the THC in marijuana extract could kill cancer cells in animals in 1975; but they did not do anything with it because of the anti-marijuana bias in the research funding.

Shackelford said that there have been 31 studies on marijuana dosing because of the cost of doing the research given the rules put in place by the government and the bias against the drug.

“Cannabis misue is not a great thing; but people do not die from it however,” Dr. Shackelford said.

Dr. Shackelford said that cannabis has been used to treat seizures by doctors since at least 1464 when it was recorded that it was used in Baghdad.

Dr. Shackelford showed movies of a child named Charlotte whom he is treating with a cannabis product. “Charlotte is laughing playing with puzzles, and dancing.” She went from having 300 seizures a week to just five a month after Shackelford began using cannabis to treat her epilepsy.

“The Mayo Clinic says that 70 percent of all doctor’s visits are for joint and back pain,” Dr. Shackelford said. Over the counter medications are used to treat pain; but that the side effects of those medication cause gastrointestinal bleeding that leads to over 100,000 people being hospitalized. Thousands die from those side effects.

Shackelford said that Canada uses cannabis to treat PTSD in its soldiers who were sent to Afghanistan. They had 15 veteran suicides in 2018. The U.S. had over 6000 in U.S.

“The government has made it difficult to do studies,” Shackelford said. “But there is evidence that cannabinoids will treat PTSD.”

“We ow it to our veterans who are dying,” Shackelford said.

“33 states have medical cannabis and 13 have recreational cannabis,” Shackelford said. “States with medical opioids have 24.8 percent lower rate of overdose death.”

Shackelford said that if all states would allow medical cannabis it would save Medicaid over a billion dollars.

“There has never been a marijuana overdose death,” Shackelford asserted.

Shackelford dismissed studies showing that youth who used marijuana had eroded white matter in their brains because they were also using alcohol which has been shown to be much more damaging to the youth’s brain white matter.

Shackelford said that he has had patients move to Colorado to get treatment, “Nobody should have to move from Alabama,” to get treatment.

“I don’t want any veteran who fought for us in Iraq or Afghanistan to be shooting themselves,” Dr. Shackelford said. “Y’all should have the same stuff that 33 other states have.”

Doctor Shackleford a world reknown medical physician, who like members of the commission, did not believe in medical cannabis- until he did the research,” lobbyist and marijuana advocate Chey Garrigan said. The research is that cannabis works and people do not die!”

“Doctor Shackleford, stated that, ‘We owe it to our Veterans, who are dying’, to make it available in a structured and regulated manner for treatments that could be beneficial with physician oversight,” Garrigan told APR.

The Medical Cannabis Study Commission is chaired by State Senator Tim Melson, R-Florence.

“We are close to the end,” Melson told the commission members.

The commission is already drafting a bill and should be through with that by December 1. They will vote on that bill in their December meeting. Whatever that final bill says, Melson is expected to introduce it in the Legislature in the 2020 Regular Session which begins on February 4.

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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Corruption

Former State Sen. David Burkette pleads guilty, avoids jail

Josh Moon

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Former Alabama Sen. David Burkette

Former State Sen. David Burkette will avoid jail time and be sentenced to a 30-day suspended sentence as part of a plea deal reached on Monday. 

Burkette, who pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Fair Campaign Practices Act, will also have to pay a $3,000 fine and serve 12 months of probation as part of the deal. He was sentenced in Montgomery Circuit Court on Monday after being charged two weeks ago with failing to deposit more than $3,600 in contributions into campaign accounts — a misdemeanor.

He also resigned his seat in the Alabama Senate as part of the plea deal. 

“I’m just happy to still be here,” Burkette told the court following his sentencing, according to multiple media reports. 

The former senator suffered a stroke in 2018 and has been confined to a wheelchair since. His current health status played a role in his sentence considerations. 

The charges against Burkette stem from a series of complaints filed against him with the Alabama Ethics Commission — all of them related to various issues during his time on the Montgomery City Council. The charge for which he pleaded guilty occurred in 2015.

The Ethics Commission referred numerous charges to the Alabama attorney general’s office, according to sources familiar with the investigation of Burkette, but the attorney general’s office elected to charge Burkette with only the misdemeanor as part of the deal that saw him resign. 

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“Candidates for public office at the state, county and municipal levels must comply with the State’s Fair Campaign Practices Act,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall. “Personally profiting from campaign funds erodes public confidence in the system and will not be tolerated.”

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Legislature

Former state senator arrested on charges of violating campaign finance laws

Josh Moon

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Former State Sen. David Burkette

David Burkette has been officially arrested. The former state senator from Montgomery, who resigned on Tuesday as part of a plea deal with the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, was formally charged on Thursday with a single misdemeanor count of violating the Fair Campaign Practices Act. 

According to a press release from the AG’s office, Burkette’s charge stems from him depositing campaign donations into his personal account instead of into his campaign accounts, as required by the FCPA. The alleged crimes occurred in 2015 and 2016 when Burkette was serving on the Montgomery City Council. 

The complaint alleged that, in 2015 and 2016 while running for the Montgomery City Council, Burkette intentionally failed to deposit $3,625.00 in campaign contributions into his campaign checking account, and instead, deposited or cashed those contributions into or against his personal bank account,” the AG’s release stated. 

The single misdemeanor charge is surprising given the lengthy list of allegations against Burkette submitted to the Alabama Ethics Commission. APR obtained a copy of the original report, which was submitted in October 2018. 

In addition to more than $40,000 in allegedly improperly spent council discretionary funds that were flagged by auditors for the city of Montgomery, Burkette was also accused of inappropriately donating tens of thousands more to suspect charities and two sororities, including his wife’s.

The Ethics Commission referred Burkette’s case to the AG’s Office in October 2019.

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Legislature

Pro-Growth Conference kicks off with Doug Jones, discussions on COVID impact and a living wage

Josh Moon

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Sen. Doug Jones speaks on the floor of the U.S. Senate. (VIA CSPAN)

What happens if you just give impoverished citizens $500 per month — no strings attached? Good things, it turns out. The people use that income to buy food, medicine and basic necessities for life. They take a day off work if they’re sick and actually get treatment. They quit a second, hourly-wage job that they are overqualified for and instead work towards obtaining a better, higher-paying primary job. 

These are things that the city of Stockton, California, has learned in its year-long living wage program.

The program, while limited in size — only 125 people — has proven to be a larger success than city officials had hoped, and it has opened their eyes to a new, more proactive style of governance, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs told Alabama elected officials. 

Tubbs was the featured speaker on Tuesday at the first day of the Pro-Growth Policy Conference, a three-day forum for Alabama elected leaders with guest speakers from around the country offering tips and best practices. 

The first day of the conference began with an opening talk from Sen. Doug Jones, who pressed the need for Medicaid expansion and how expansion has aided other red states. Jones also highlighted the need for broadband expansion and talked about a bill he has in the Senate that would create a broadband main office and dish out about $20 million in money for affordable access.

“Now (with COVID), we know how needed it really is,” Jones said. “We see the homework gap that we have. We know there’s a need for more telemedicine. My bill would consolidate in one office all of the monies for broadband … and provide affordable access.”

Jones said the current COVID pandemic has highlighted just how badly we need better access to broadband in Alabama, and a major area of concern right now is healthcare. 

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Highlighting that point, Brandon Garrett, the chief operating officer of the National Minority Quality Forum, and Dr. LaTasha Lee, the vice-president of social and clinical research, demonstrated the many ways in which inequality in health care and health care options is harming impoverished communities. 

A number of factors play into that inequality, but a lack of access to updated means of communication and tools is one of the biggest. 

“(Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) said that, ‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane because it results in physical death,’” Lee said. “That’s what we’re seeing currently with COVID-19 and sickle cell disease. These two diseases are affecting the minority community and causing death, and they make a great argument that such health care disparities really are a social justice issue.”

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Correcting such issues was one of the goals of Stockton’s living wage experiment. Now, Tubbs said, a working person can afford to stay home or get tested if they’re feeling symptomatic, whereas before that person — scared of missing a paycheck or losing the job altogether — might come to work with the virus and infect an entire workplace. 

That alone, Tubbs said, has restored dignity to a number of residents. 

“This is not easy, especially with budgets the way they are,” Tubbs said. “But I don’t know how we continue to live with the status quo as it is.

“I think part of being a leader, as we are, is having the courage to do something about what we’re seeing. We have to be able to do that.”

The Pro-Growth Policy Conference will run both Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Wednesday’s round of conferences will focus on state grants, economic development around the state and what the 2021 legislative session might look like. 

On Thursday, the event will wrap up with talks by the Equal Justice Initiative’s Bryan Stevenson and Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell.

 

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Elections

Russell Bedsole wins Republican runoff in HD49

Brandon Moseley

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House District 49 Republican nominee Russell Bedsole

As of press time, it appears that Russell Bedsole has won a narrow victory over Mimi Penhale in the special Republican primary runoff election in Alabama House District 49.

At press time, Bedsole had a 166-vote lead in unofficial results on the secretary of state’s website.

“We won,” Bedsole declared on social media.

Bedsole is an Alabaster city councilman and a Shelby County Sheriff’s Department captain.

“Sadly, tonight did not turn out in my favor. Despite the loss, I feel like God truly used this opportunity to help me grow in my walk with Him, and gave me the opportunity to increase my testimony,” Penhale said. “I feel so incredibly blessed by the people I have met on this campaign and the experiences I have had. I am disappointed in the outcome, but what an honor it is to have the confidence of 1,183 people across House District 49! Thank you!!”

Russell Bedsole had 1,249 votes, or 51.36 percent, to Mimi Penhale’s 1,183, or 48.64 percent, to win the House District 49 Republican primary runoff.

There were just 2,432 votes cast in the special primary runoff election. Shelby County was the decisive factor in the election. Bedsole won Shelby County with 762 votes, or 71.42 percent, to Penale’s 305 votes.

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Penhale carried Chilton and Bibb Counties, but could not overcome Bedsole’s strong performance in Shelby County.

The provisional ballots will be counted on Sept. 8, 2020, and certification of votes will occur on Sept. 16, 2020.

Bedsole will face Democratic nominee Sheryl Patton in the special general election on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020.

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The vacancy in House District 49 was created when State Rep. April Weaver announced her resignation to accept a presidential appointment as a regional director in the Department of Health and Human Services.

In a statement, the Alabama Republican Party thanked “each of the candidates that qualified for offering themselves up for service in the Alabama State House of Representatives.”

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