Alabama Medical marijuana bill rekindled

April 27, 2005

Jannell McGrew, Montgomery Advertiser

Some thought state Rep. Laura Hall's bill to make medical marijuana legal in Alabama had gone up in smoke, but the Huntsville Democrat has managed to get her much-debated measure out of a House committee.

The proposal is on its way to a vote before the full House, but another hurdle -- time -- may be the one thing that kills the bill for now. There are only three legislative work days remaining in the 2005 regular session of the Alabama Legislature.

Hall's bill would legalize the use of marijuana for the seriously ill and dying. It would make it legal for state residents like Laura Campbell, who smokes marijuana illegally for her pain, to use the drug without the prospect of arrest, prosecution and imprisonment.

According to authorities, a person convicted of felony possession of marijuana could pay up to $5,000 in fines and serve up to 10 years in prison. Conviction for misdemeanor possession carries a fine of up to $2,000 and a year in jail.

Campbell, who suffers from three forms of arthritis and fibromyalgia and takes 14 pills a day for her ailments, is hopeful the measure will pass.

'A lot of people are saying they think it may die in three days,' she said. 'And some people said it would take nine days to elect a pope. Stranger things have happened, and we have three days.'

Hall, the bill's sponsor, is doubtful the measure will make it out of the House in time, but she vowed that if it doesn't pass this session, she'll be back in 2006 pushing her bill. She was pleased to at least see the measure out of committee.

'At this point, it keeps the discussion going,' she said.

Some lawmakers oppose the bill, saying there are more viable alternatives, such as Marinol, the pill form of marijuana.

Others, including state Rep. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, expressed concerns about the bill and wanted patients to be required to obtain the medication through pharmacies. Hall obliged.

'It's a better bill now,' Brewbaker said. 'Essentially, what it does is treat medical marijuana like any other painkiller. You have to get it prescribed by a doctor, and you have to obtain it through a pharmacy. In other words, you can't go out and buy it on the streets illegally.'

Hall said she wished the state had enacted such a law years ago. Her son was diagnosed with AIDS in 1989. Hall said he suffered from loss of appetite and pain. She believes medical marijuana could have provided him some relief during tough times.

Michael Blain, policy director for the Drug Policy Alliance, supports Hall's bill. He noted that several other states have allowed some form of medical marijuana.

'I applaud Laura Hall for her courage and tenacity, but most of all, for remembering that in the final days of her son's life, he needed more compassionate care than was available,' Blain said. 'Alabamians have the right to have their physicians prescribe whatever is needed to ease the pain and suffering of debilitating illnesses. If you can't get compassion in Alabama, where can you get it?'

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