Medical marijuana bill approved by House committee

April 26, 2005

Phillip Rawls, Tuscaloosa News

Legislation to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes got approved by a legislative committee Wednesday, but neither the bill's sponsor nor the panel's chairman expect it to get any closer to becoming law this year. 'I know it's not going to move,' said the sponsor, Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill on a sharply divided voice vote Wednesday. Because of the voice vote, there is no official record of how committee members voted.

The marijuana bill now goes to the House with only three meeting days left in the legislative session.

Hall and committee Chairman Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, urged the committee to approve the bill to foster negotiations with medical groups and others before next year's session of the Legislature.

'I want to work through this activity for the next year,' Hall said.

Hall's bill would allow Alabamians with chronic or persistent medical conditions to use marijuana for pain relief if a doctor approves it. Hall said marijuana should be an option for people with chronic pain who have found other pain killers ineffective.

The Judiciary Committee first discussed her bill April 20, but delayed action on it for a week so she could make changes suggested by committee members. Her bill originally would have allowed patients or their caregivers to grow marijuana, but she changed Wednesday so the marijuana would have to come from a pharmacy.

An opponent, Rep. Albert Morton, R-Birmingham, said there are plenty of pain medications for people to use other than marijuana, and Alabama does not need to do anything to put marijuana in a favorable light.

'That's an unhealthy lifestyle we'd be promoting,' he said.

Black assured opponents that the bill won't pass in the current legislative session. 'It's in a format that will continue to require work,' he said.

Michael Blain, policy director for the Drug Policy Alliance and a medical marijuana advocate, said getting the bill approved by a committee in its first year in the Legislature 'is amazing progress.'

Before next year's session, the group will work with Hall to try to build support by conducting a public education program, he said.


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