The Alabama Senate may not have debated medical marijuana long. But the House appears ready to make up for that.
The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday held hearings on legislation sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, that would allow the use of medical cannabis in the state for more than a dozen conditions.
“We know that there’s literature out there to back that, and show that it does help those,” Melson said to the committee on Thursday. “I never thought I’d be into this, but as somebody who does research for a living, I just went to the literature, went to Google Scholar and just looked it up.”
The subsequent public hearing over the bill featured some of the same witnesses and replayed many arguments aired in three years of debate over the legislation in the Senate. Opponents, many pediatricians, expressed concerns about allowing the use of a drug that has not received FDA approval. Proponents cited the widespread adoption of medical marijuana in other states and the benefits it could give.
As passed by the Senate, the legislation would allow the use of medical marijuana for 16 different ailments, including cancer, anxiety, PTSD, fibromyalgia, menopause and PMS, and sickle-cell anemia. Medical marijuana could be dispensed in the form of tablets, capsules and oils used in vaporizers. It could not be smoked, vaped, or put into baked products. Recreational use of the drug is forbidden.
To receive medical marijuana, a physician would have to certify that a person has a condition covered under the act and registered with a state medical cannabis commission, created under the act. The patient would apply for a special card certifying that they could receive medical marijuana. The bill sets a $65 ceiling for the cost of the card.
The commission would also license and regulate dispensers, cultivators and processors.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states and the District of Columbia have a medical marijuana program. Alabama has authorized the use of cannbidiol (CBD) oil for participants in a health study at the University of Alabama Birmingham.
Proponents of medical marijuana, many suffering chronic conditions, have said that cannabis was the only substance that brought their symptoms under control. Amanda Taylor, who testified before a Senate committee on medical marijuana in 2019, told the committee she suffers from six debilitating diseases, including diabetes, PTSD and multiple sclerosis, said she became a “medical refugee” who had to leave Alabama to obtain access to medical marijuana.
From 2019:At medical cannabis commission meeting, stories of pain and pleas for relief
“Every day of my life, I work a more than full-time job” she said. “I’ve had six debilitating diseases, and I am a huge productive member of this society. And I feel that it would be beneficial on every level, as a patient.”
Pediatricians who spoke in opposition to the bill said marijuana, a Schedule I drug, had not been approved by the FDA for medical purposes, and also expressed concerns about the the long-term effects of marijuana use. Susan Ashbee, a pediatrician from Mobile County, expressed concerns that children could get a hold of medical marijuana prescribed for adults.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics, which is my governing board, also is against this bill,” she said. “We are for compassionate use with intractable epilepsy, and also in cancer patients who have nausea that can’t be controlled by other means.”
Melson said after the public testimony that the COVID-19 vaccines did not go through the FDA approval process.
The Senate passed versions of Melson’s bill in 2019 and 2020. Last month the Senate approved Melson’s legislation after just 15 minutes of debate. But the House has balked at moving beyond that. In 2019, House members turned Melson’s medical marijuana bill into a commission to study the issue.
House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said last month that the medical marijuana bill would go through two committees, a highly unusual move that the speaker said was aimed at addressing representatives’ questions about the legislation. Bills typically go through one committee before they are ready for a floor vote.
More:Alabama medical marijuana bill could move slowly through House
“I respect the process,” Melson said on Wednesday.
No member of the House Judiciary committee expressed outright opposition to the bill on Wednedsay, though some sounded cautious. Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley, said he was “on the fence” about the legislation, citing a friend whose child’s seizures were reduced after taking CBD oil.
“My goal is to tighten it up so we don’t have some of the issues that are in so many states that have recreational marijuana,” he said.
Rep. Christopher England, D-Tuscaloosa, said many of the arguments he heard against medical marijuana had been leveled against experimental CBD oil a few years back.
“We eventually get to a point where things are responsibly managed, and used, and have become helpful, and become part of what every doctor does,” he said.
The committee did not vote on the bill on Wednesday. Chairman Jim Hill, R-Moody, said the legislation would be in committee next week.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or firstname.lastname@example.org.