Medical marijuana supporters held a rally outside the Alabama State House on April 22, 2015 prior to a Senate Judiciary Committee on legislation to allow physicians to prescribe medical marijuana. The bill received a favorable report in committee.
Was it all for nothing?
Medical marijuana legislation won a small victory in an Alabama Senate panel on Wednesday, but long-time senator and chairman of the committee that sets the calendar for the floor says the bill is dead.
This means the full membership of the Senate won’t even get a chance to debate it.
Sen. Jabo Waggoner, Rules Committee chairman, told AL.com that Alabama isn’t ready for legislation that would allow patients with some chronic medical issues to purchase medical marijuana.
“It is bad legislation,” he said. “We don’t need that in Alabama.”
Waggoner, who has served in the Alabama Legislature for 49 years, said he will look at the legislation next year and the year after, but he doesn’t think anything would change his mind on it this year.
Sen. Bobby Singleton’s medical marijuana legislation received a favorable report with a 4-3 vote from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday afternoon. Only Democrats voted in favor, and the measure likely only passed because three Republican members failing to attend; another abstained from voting.
Singleton said he remains optimistic about, at least, getting the bill to the Senate floor and opening a debate on medical marijuana.
“I respect Mr. Waggoner as the rules chairman and the rules chairman sets the calendar,” he said. “I will respectfully plead my case with him, and I will ask him to place (the bill) on the calendar before the end of the session.”
Singleton said medical marijuana is still a sensitive issue in Alabama, but he isn’t going to give up.
He said the “climate is right” for this legislation. “I don’t like to paint Alabama in the dark ages,” he said.
Medical marijuana could help those with chronic pain and be an economic generator for the state, Singleton said.
On Wednesday, he said: “This is not about a smoke-fest. This is about trying to help people. I’m not trying to be the next Colorado.”
Singleton’s legislation would allow for patients who suffer from 25-specific conditions to purchase a maximum of 10-ounces of medical marijuana per month.
He is considering taking out a provision in the bill that would allow patients to grow their own plants. Singleton said that would be too hard to enforce.
The existing bill will also be substituted for one calling for a constitutional amendment, which means if passed, Alabama residents would have to vote on it.
There would be safeguards in place to keep the marijuana out of children’s hands, Singleton said.
Physicians would be required to perform a full examination on a patient before issuing a prescription card for medical marijuana, he said. They would face penalties if they don’t. A prescription card would cost $100.
While 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, the issue hasn’t gone mainstream in the Heart of Dixie. Conservative lawmakers are still concerned with children getting their hands on the drug.
Sen. Phil Williams said he has seen too many teen drug addicts to ever support marijuana legislation. He sees marijuana as a gateway to other drug usage.
He vowed to block the bill on the Senate floor if it came to that.
The Medical Association of the State of Alabama declined to release an opinion on the legislation this year. Though, the group had surveyed Alabama physicians about the matter.
During a visit to the Senate floor today, former senator and gubernatorial candidate Parker Griffith told AL.com that he would likely vote for medical marijuana if he was still in the senate.
“I would have to see it,” he said. “I would want to make certain that the safeguards are there” like warning labels that are on cigarettes.
He suspected most physicians in the state supported the use of medical marijuana, at least for a limited number of chronic illnesses.
Griffith, a retired oncologist, said he has seen the benefits of marijuana usage for cancer patients who can’t eat.
“Right now it is an emotional discussion (in Alabama),” he said. “It is not based on reason. Those kinds of discussions rarely go anywhere.”
Griffith said if you polled Alabamians under the age of 50, the vast majority would support legalization of medical marijuana.
Studies have shown medical marijuana can help control epileptic seizures and
other seizure disorders, treat glaucoma, decrease anxiety, show progression of Alzheimer’s disease, ease the pain of multiple sclerosis and other conditions, slow the spread of cancer, help with Crohn’s disease and many other health conditions.
About two dozen medical marijuana advocates attended a Wednesday morning rally outside the Alabama State House. Several had hoped to talk about their illnesses and how the use of prescription drugs had ravished their bodies, and now marijuana was there only hope for relief.
But a public hearing was pulled at the last minute.
The issue is personal for Ron Crumpton, who drafted the legislation. He has spinal stenosis — a narrowing of spaces in the spine, which causes pressure on the spinal cord and nerves – and spinal disease. About five years ago, he had 40 percent of his stomach removed due to the prescription drugs he has to take.
Medical marijuana would be an alternative to prescription drugs for him.
Only after children with seizure disorders converged on the State House last year and pulled on the heartstrings of lawmakers did the Legislature pass Carly’s Law, a bill that would allow certain children with debilitating seizures to receive marijuana-derived oil, called CBD oil, for medicinal use.
Children just recently started receiving this treatment through a UAB study.