Medical marijuana bill introduced in AL state Legislature

March 31, 2005

Carla Crowder, Birmingham News

MONTGOMERY - A young mother in June Cleaver pearls and cardigan became Alabama's face of medical marijuana Thursday when she spoke out about how the illegal drug soothes her chronic pain.

Laura Campbell, 32, of Cullman appeared at a State House news conference held to announce the introduction of Alabama's first compassionate-use bill. In detailed and emotional terms, she talked about using marijuana to manage pain caused by years of fibromyalgia and three forms of arthritis.

'I'm not a threat to society, but I have to be criminal to get the medicine I need to survive,' she said, with her husband looking on. 

Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, introduced the bill Thursday. It would allow patients with certain serious illnesses to use marijuana with a doctor's prescription.

Laws in 11 states permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes. In Alabama, a conviction for possession of the substance can lead to 10 years in prison.

Opponents of medicinal marijuana include Alabama Attorney General Troy King. 'His personal opinion is that it is poor public policy and he opposes it,' said his spokesman, Chris Bence. But King also said it's the Legislature's job to make laws, and it's the attorney general's job to enforce them.

Supporters of Alabama's bill expect serious challenges, and they had their responses ready Thursday.

'This bill does not legalize marijuana for the mass public,' Hall said. 'It does not open the floodgates for drug use.'

Hall mentioned her son, who died of AIDS. 'As a mother, I would have been relieved if he had had the opportunity for this particular act, for compassionate use,' Hall said.

HIV/AIDS sufferers find marijuana useful in stimulating their appetites to prevent weight loss, known as wasting. Cancer patients also use the drug to quell nausea and vomiting. And glaucoma patients use it to lower pressure in the eye.

`Crazy' to not have it:

Those illnesses, as well as multiple sclerosis, migraines, seizures and several other diseases or symptoms would be covered in the bill. It also would allow marijuana use if chronic symptoms substantially limited a person's ability to conduct major life activities or if those symptoms posed a serious threat to their safety or mental and physical health.

Several national physicians and nurses groups have endorsed the medical value of marijuana.

Dr. Michael Saag, director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Center for AIDS Research, said it makes sense to allow medical use of marijuana. 'I think it's crazy for us not to have it,' he said Thursday. 'There are a lot more powerful narcotics that have been approved for use.'

Polls also have shown a majority of Americans supporting medical uses of marijuana. A 2004 Alabama poll conducted by the Mobile Register and the University of South Alabama found that more than three-quarters of respondents said doctors should be able to prescribe it. Also in 2004, the AARP found that 72 percent for people over 45 agree that adults should be able to use marijuana medically.

The Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization that supports reforms of the country's drug laws, found that more than 110,000 patients use marijuana. The alliance called that a conservative estimate because Maine, Maryland and Washington - three of the states that allow medical use - do not keep registries of users. Hall's bill would require a registry.

`It's a rough choice':

Campbell said Thursday that marijuana is especially helpful for her because she is allergic to prescription pain-relief drugs, such as Lortab. They cause her to vomit and suffer other digestive maladies, she said.

As a church-going mother and wife, Campbell faces a dilemma in explaining her choices to her children, who are 13, 9 and 8. But she said the health benefits of marijuana that allow her to care for her children are worth it.

'I have a choice between taking an all-natural pain medication and popping a pill and vomiting,' she said. 'It's a rough choice. I can be a criminal and hand off to you three well-nurtured, well-rounded adults in 10 years, or I can be sick and not be able to raise my children and have three screwed-up adults.'

Campbell is under treatment from three doctors, one of whom prescribed Marinol, a legal, synthetic form of the active ingredient in marijuana. But a month's supply would cost her $498, which her family cannot afford, she said.

'It was put to me like this,' she said. 'Your $500 would go a long way somewhere else.'

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