Medicinal marijuana proposed in Alabama

April 06, 2005

Cara Parell, The Auburn Plainsman

Alabama’s Legislature is considering a bill to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

The bill would allow the use of marijuana with a doctor’s prescription for certain conditions like AIDS, anorexia and chronic pain.

Under Alabama law, the possession of marijuana is considered a Class-A misdemeanor that can lead to prison on the first offense. Selling or transporting marijuana is punishable by 20 years in prison.

“People see it as a radical marijuana legalization bill,” said Stephen Gordon, vice chair of the Libertarian Party of Alabama, which supports the bill. “It isn’t. The controls are very tight. It’s not going to become a mainstream drug. It’s for (multiple sclerosis) and other chronic conditions.”

The Compassionate Use Act for Medical Marijuana was introduced by Rep. Laura Hall, D-Madison, March 31.

Hall could not be reached for comment, but she told The Plainsman in February that she expects a positive response.

“I don’t expect (the people in my district) to be opposed to it,” she said. “I would expect that they would be supportive of the idea of giving to those people who have a need for it.”

Loretta Nall, founder of the Alabama Marijuana Party and President of the U.S. Marijuana Party, said she is working to get Alabamians who use the drug for treatment in violation of current law to testify before the Legislature.

Laura Campbell, a 32-year-old mother of three from Cullman, spoke at a press conference in support of the bill. Campbell, who is allergic to most traditional pain medications, uses marijuana to manage chronic pain from several disorders like severe arthritis.

Campbell said she is not afraid to publicize her use of a currently illegal medicine.

“My parents said either I’m too stupid to be scared or I’m doing the right thing.”

Nall said getting people to testify has been difficult.

“Lots of people are hesitant, so it’s been kind of difficult,” she said.

Nall said she knows there is a great deal of support, but it is often kept under wraps.

“There is a lot of silent support,” she said. “They’re people who want to see it pass, but don’t want to give up their political clout.”

Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn, said he still expects the bill to face a great deal of opposition.

“I don’t believe the climate in the state is ready for the legalization,” Little said. “In future years, sometime it may happen. It’s not anywhere close to happening in the state of Alabama.”

Little would not support the bill.

“It’s far too premature for the state of Alabama,” he said.

Hall’s bill now goes to the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Stephen McMillan, R-Bay Minette, the committee’s ranking minority member, said he is waiting to review the bill further before he makes up his mind.

Asked if he could support allowing marijuana use for medicinal purposes, he said, “Conceivably, yes, if there were enough controls on it.

“I don’t want to open it up so anyone and his brother can say, ‘I’ve got a medical condition,’” McMillan said.

If the bill passes the House and Senate, it is unlikely to earn Riley’s approval.

“The governor does not support the legislation to legalize marijuana or any other illegal drug,” said John Matson, Riley’s press secretary.

As of deadline, Judiciary Committee

Chair Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, had not scheduled the matter on the committee’s agenda. Black could not be reached for comment.

The bill is based on legislation introduced and approved in California. States like Maryland, Washington and Colorado also allow marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

According to the draft of the bill, in 1999, the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine found that research has shown the use of marijuana may alleviate nausea and the effects of chemotherapy and glaucoma.

The bill urges legislators to realize their responsibility to “protect the health and safety of Alabamians.”

The law would also protect physicians who mention the possibility of using marijuana for treatment from being incarcerated.

To use marijuana for treatment, a physician must first recommend the patient for the drug, then the patient and doctor would weigh the health risks.

Health risks include those associated with smoking, but those can be minimized by using a vaporizer, which heats marijuana to release its active ingredients without producing smoke, or by cooking it into food, Nall said.

”The only real danger is going to jail,” Nall said. “That’s not what they’re talking about, but it’s the truth.”

Patients prescribed marijuana would be given a registry identification card. The patient would either be allowed to grow the marijuana themselves or if they are unable to grow it, have it grown by a designated caregiver.

Nall said that getting the bill passed in Alabama would be a major step toward the legalization of medicinal marijuana across the country.

“This is the most difficult state to get it passed in,” Nall said. “If we can do it here, people will say, ‘God, we can do it any where.’”



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