Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee gave a favorable report to a bill that would allow Alabama residents to obtain medical marijuana on an 8 to 1 vote. Senate Bill 167 was sponsored by State Senator Tim Melson, R-Florence.
SB165 would create a tightly regulated network of state-licensed marijuana growers, dispensaries, transporters, and processors. Patients would have to get a recommendation for the drug from their physician. Only physicians who have received the approved training would be able to dispense the cannabis-derived treatments. There would be no smokable products allowed and consumer possession of marijuana in its raw natural form would remain illegal in the state.
Sen. Melson is a retired anesthesiologist who now works in medical research.
“I would not have carried this bill three or four years ago,” Melson said. But there is a growing body of medical evidence that there are medical benefits.
Melson said that while this bill does have provisions for growing and processing marijuana in states there is also, “An option for it to come from outside.”
Melson said that under this bill we will know what is being grown, being processed, and reaches the consumer. The medical association will recommend the training and the education component for the physician. Patients will be issued a medical cannabis card. “The card will not be good in other states.”
Melson said that Alabama dispensaries will not accept out of state medical cannabis cards except one time a year they can get a one-time emergency order. The number of dispensaries will be limited to 34 total. Patients will be allowed to get just a 70-day supply. There is no smoking and no vaping. People in rural areas will have to go far to get one of the dispensaries. There is a, “Balancing act between convenience and safety. There are fifteen qualifying conditions.”
Rick Hagans is a minister with Harvest Evangelism, which runs Christian rehabs for both men and women drug addicts.
“The gateway that led to methamphetamines and opioids began with marijuana,” Hagans said. “We have found in forty years of work that it is a gateway drug.”
Hagans dismissed the medical benefits claims, “Medical profession said the same thing with opioids. I ask that you proceed with caution and concern. I get tired of burying your sons and daughters,”
“Thank you for giving us Leni’s Law, but it is not enough,” Christie Kaine said. “I am the Mother of a child with intractable epilepsy. We know from our research that there are other cannaboids that can help with Hardy’s condition, but they can not be used in Alabama due to the level of THC. If Hardy did not live in Alabama he could be seizure-free.
Caleb Crosby with the Alabama Policy Institute said, “It is a real issue and something has to be done about it. Our concern is unintended consequences.”
Crosby said that Republicans, “Run on small government, but this does the opposite.”
“We still have a litany of laws carried over from Prohibition one hundred years ago,” Crosby said. “You will not be able to get rid of all of these regulations and taxes.”
Cynthia Atkinson’s husband was longtime WSFA meteorologist Dan Atkinson, who was also on the Weather Channel.
“Dan had Parkinson’s for ten years,” Atkinson said. “The last five years he suffered from tremendous pain.” He had excellent doctors at the Mayo Clinic and Kirklin Clinic. They did their best.” Dan was prescribed Oxycodone, hydrocodone, lorazepam, and as he got progressively worse morphine. We learned that Israel has been studying cannabis since the 1950s. In 2015 we went to Colorado.” He used patches with 10 mg of CBD and 10 mg of THC. The leg cramps went away. We wanted to bring it back but couldn’t because of the law.
“The opioids and synthetic drugs were racking his body,” Mrs. Atkinson said. Dan passed away in 2017. I can’t help but think that if we lived in another state he could have lived to see his son graduate from Auburn and join the Space Force.
Captain Clay Hammac commands the Shelby County Drug Task Force
“Just because we do not put medical in front of marijuana does not make it medicine,” Capt. Hammac said. Under Alabama law, we already have Leni’s law and Carly’s law and there are cannabis-based medications that have been approved by the FDA.
Hammac warned that this was an “Incremental step toward the decriminalization of a multi-$billion industry. This bill should be before the Health Committee instead of the Judiciary Committee.”
“Law enforcement was never invited to the table to share our experience,” Hammac said of the Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission.
“A Harvard medical researcher was brought to the commission and virtually laughed out of the room,” Hammac said. “I stand with our Attorney General.”
Hammac blast the “casual way” that this has been handled.
“The reason this is before the Judiciary Committee instead of the Health Committee is that this is the most deliberative thorough committee in state government today,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said. “That nature of the people on this Committee is why this is here.”
“The State has no authority to usurp federal law,” Hammac said.
“I want to make sure that everybody understands where I come from,” Dustin Chandler said. “My daughter Carly obtained CBD oil through Carly’s Law. My daughter was able to get relief through the CBD oil. Studies show that medical cannabis has medical benefits for many people.”
Lori Herring said, “I have been a nurse for 30 years.”
Herring said that the American Academy on Pediatrics opposes the legalization of cannabis. The American Medical Association does not endorse medical cannabis. The Multiple Sclerosis Society can not recommend cannabis as a treatment.
“The side effects, system effects, and long term side effects are not clear,” Herring said. “It has not been shown to be medically effective and could be dangerous. “It has only been approved for two severe forms of epilepsy. We don’t know what a pediatric dose, an adult dose, or a geriatric dose would be.”
Herring warned that marijuana can cause nausea and vomiting unrelieved by current nausea medication and has resulted in death. Legalization has led to increased emergency room visits, paranoia, schizophrenia, and psychotic breaks.
“The marijuana today is more addictive than marijuana in the past,” Herring said. “Legislators should not be taking the place of scientists.”
Dr. Alan Shackelford of Colorado said, “I have seen 25,000 patients in my practice in the last ten years. I doubt you will find anybody who has as much experience with patients than I do.”
Shackelford said that Marylin was a helicopters pilot in Iraq who was shot down and had severe injuries and PTSD did not have a job rarely left her house and now has a job at the VA helping other veterans and is married
Shackleford said that Mason is age 68 and has Parkinson’s. He could not move now he plays baseball and is a deacon in his church. He also said that he treated Charlotte, a girl with Dravet Syndrome with tremendous effect and now she is a healthy twelve-year-old.
“Not all of them are as dramatic as these,” Dr. Shackelford said. Arthritis, autism, PTSD, cancer, pain, Parkinson’s, chemotherapy-related nausea can all be treated with cannabis.
“The people of Alabama deserve the same access to treatment as people in 33 other states,” Dr. Shackelford concluded.
“A number of amendments have been worked out in the last couple of weeks,” Ward said.
The amendments were added and Ward advised Melson to incorporate all the amendments into a substitute to introduce when the bill is on the Senate floor.
The most notable amendment dealt with workmen’s compensation. An employee who is injured or killed on the job is ineligible to receive compensation if his death or injury was due to the employee’s impairment under medical cannabis.
SB167 received a favorable report on an eight to one vote.