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Marshall opposes medical marijuana bill

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall speaking during a congressional hearing in 2018.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) on Monday sent letters to state legislators urging them to oppose legislation that would allow approved medical providers to prescribe cannabis for patients they believe would benefit from it.

Marshall expressed concerns about addiction to marijuana and worried that legalization of medical marijuana in the state would be similar to the problems that the state is facing dealing with treating opioid addiction.

Marshall said that the benefits of marijuana have been overstated and that we do not know the risks from long term marijuana use. Marshall warned of the risks from marijuana use.

“As your partner in public service, I would view it as an abdication of my duty to you, and to the public, to stay silent on this matter,” Marshall said. “While I do not question the motives or intentions of any member of the Legislature who does support legalization, the many unanswered questions and potential ramifications are undeniable. My fear is that while we fight in court for funding to remediate the opioid crisis, we will exacerbate that problem while creating a new one. We will work to provide access to recovery programs for those with opioid addiction, while the number of those who need help grows and even expands to those who develop a marijuana addiction.”

The Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission voted in December to recommend that the Legislature pass legislation allowing approved medical providers to be able to prescribe medical marijuana. The draft legislation does not allow a smokable product or an edible product, like cannabis gummies, candies, or baked goods. Only approved Alabama farmers could legally grow marijuana and possession of raw marijuana plant material would be limited to state licensed growers, transporters, and processors. The proposed legislation would not allow doctors to advertise that they prescribe medical cannabis. Growing marijuana by a non-licensed producer, even for personal use, would remain illegal. Possessing marijuana in a smokable form like cigarettes, pipes, “joints”, or “bongs” would remain illegal as would possession by anybody without a valid prescription. The state will not honor medical marijuana cards from other states.

Most states have already legalized medical marijuana; and some states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Critics point out that marijuana remains scheduled federally as a controlled substance making all of these state laws legally dubious under the established legal concept that federal law can not be overruled by state law under the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution.

State Senator Tim Melson, R-Florence, chaired the Medical Cannabis Study Commission and is expected to still introduce his legislation even though Marshall, the Alabama Policy Institute, and the Alabama Citizens Action Patrol (ALCAP) have all already come out against this legislation.

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API Director of Policy Strategy former State Senator Phil Williams has criticized the bill as a Trojan horse that creates a new bureaucracy, the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, and is paid for with a new tax.

“The Republican majority may well be asked very soon to throw out every conservative principle that each of them ran on in order to “get the bill passed”,” Williams wrote. “I could write for days on the draft Cannabis Commission Bill and not even talk about marijuana. It is that bad.”

Melson told reporters with ABC 33/40 TV that he is not going to slow down or stop.

“My plans are to proceed with bill, no disrespect to him,” Melson said. “I just want to do what’s best for Alabama and our citizens and if that conflicts with federal law, I still think we ought to do it. We’re not reinventing the wheel here.”

The Alabama Cannabis Industry Association supports medical marijuana legislation.

“We are gearing up to support Sen. Melson’s legislation,” ACIA Director Chey Garrigan told the Alabama Political Reporter. “We respect the attorney general, but his frivolous claim that marijuana and opioids are comparable is meritless.”

“There is wide grass roots support across Alabama for providing marijuana to people with a medical need,” Garrigan said.

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Melson has yet to formally introduce his bill.

State Representative Mike Ball, R-Madison, is expected to carry the bill in the house.

“It’s time that we do this,” Ball said in November.

The 2020 Legislative Session begins on February 4.

Original reporting by ABC 33/40 TV contributed to this report.


Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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