Some other states have approved medical marijuana, and even the recreational use of marijuana, but do not expect Alabama to legalize the use of marijuana for any purpose any time soon.
Supporters of medical marijuana had their opportunity to advocate for the benefits for legalization on Wednesday after pushing for months for a hearing before the Health Committee in the Alabama House of Representatives and after bombarding members with hundreds of emails. Some of the emails shared the potential benefits for those with chronic illnesses while others chastised members for not acting or for referring to their endless emails as harassment.
But, after listening to both sides on Wednesday, House members on the committee made it clear there is little chance legislation would pass the committee, let alone the full House of Representatives.
“I certainly don’t see (medical marijuana) surviving a vote on the House floor,” said Rep. Jim McClendon, chairman of the committee. McClendon had referred to the emails from supporters as harassment.
Rep. Micky Hammon appeared more sympathetic, but explained the political reality to those in attendance at the hearing in the Joint Briefing Room on the eighth floor of the State House. He told the advocates to continue their fight, but said it was a “steep climb.”
“This will be a mighty large leap for us, to pass medical marijuana,” said Hammon, R-Decatur. He also said he did not foresee any legislation passing the committee or the House.
McClendon, R-Springville, said there was not any specific legislation before the committee on Wednesday, but said the hearing was an opportunity to discuss the pros and cons.
Those who testified before the committee supporting possible legislation said making marijuana available for palliative and therapeutic purposes often gave them a quality of life they did not otherwise enjoy on prescription drugs.
Christopher Butts, a co-president of the Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition, said he had developed an addiction to painkillers after suffering a spinal compression injury in 1992. The addiction, he said, ruined his marriage. Consuming cannabis cookies, Butts said, has helped manage pain.
“Three cookies a day is better than three or four Oxycontins a day,” he said.
Opponents of the proposal said committee members had to think through the practical application of the law. Randall Hillman, executive director of the Alabama District Attorneys’ Association, said authorizing medical marijuana meant the state would have to ensure that only medical patients get it, and would also have to authorize areas to grow marijuana. Hillman also said creating a marijuana market would invite crime into the state.
“(Mexican) cartels have ramped up their efforts in Alabama,” he said. “If you do this, you are creating the market.”
Hillman said “This is not a moral issue for us. This is a practical issue for us.”
Lt. Joe Herman with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation spoke against the legalization and pointed out that it remains illegal under federal law. He also said it has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, who has proposed medical marijuana legislation in every Regular Session of the Legislature since 2008, told those at a rally prior to the hearing that they were doing “missionary work” in raising awareness of the issue.
Republican Rep. K.L. Brown of Jacksonville, who spoke about his sister’s clouded last days on morphine and who said he has seen many people suffer from prescription medication, asked his colleagues to be open-minded.
– Brian Lyman and Sebastian Kitchen