Medical marijuana gets panel hearing

May 23, 2007

Jamie Kizzire, Montgomery Advertiser (AL)

Michael Phillips, 37, of Millbrook has sought surgery and medical treatments to curb the seizures caused by an inoperable brain tumor.

"I've been on every seizure medication known to mankind," he said.

The only thing that has helped has been marijuana. Since he began smoking marijuana, the number of seizures has been cut from several each day to one every six to eight weeks.

On Wednesday, Phillips and his mother joined four others to urge the House Civil Justice subcommittee to support a bill that would allow medical use of marijuana in Alabama.

While none of the six citizens support recreational drug use, they don't want the stigma of marijuana to prevent it from becoming a legitimate medical treatment in the state.

"I am considered to be in some people's eyes a criminal," Phillips said.

No opponents spoke at the public hearing, but committee chairman Rep. Charles Newton, D-Greenville, said he wished he could have heard the concerns of opponents.

Newton said 12 states have allowed medical marijuana. He said the opposing side might have told them why more states haven't followed suit.

"Alabama is not out there alone," Newton said. "We need to be informed as well as we can."

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, asked if making medical marijuana available would send mixed signals to children being taught the dangers of illegal drugs.

Dr. Ken Collins of Gardendale, who spoke in favor of the bill, said it's simply a matter of education.

"There's recreational use and then there's medical use," he said. "I think the differentiation would come from just basic knowledge."

Phillips, who learned about medical marijuana from a news program, had to make that differentiation to his mother.

"I was totally against it to begin with," said Jackie Phillips. "But I have changed my mind."

Her son lives with her because of his condition. She has seen marijuana help curb his seizures.

"I pray to God it will be legalized (for medical use) because I know that there are people out there that it will benefit," she said.

Bill sponsor Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, said it's unlikely the measure will pass since the session is almost over. She said if the bill came up for a vote, there would likely be more opposition.

"A lot of times you don't hear from the opposition until it's ready for a vote on the floor," she said.

However, she said it's good to educate other lawmakers about the issue.

"These are real people who expressed their concerns," said Hall, who believes medical marijuana could have helped her son dying of AIDS in 1992.

Other speakers included Don Prockup Jr. of Butler, who said marijuana helped during his treatment for lymphoma.

Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, said the bill could help ease the pain of HIV and AIDS patients.

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