MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A bill to allow medical marijuana cleared its first hurdle Thursday in the Alabama Legislature, giving hope to advocates after years of setbacks.
Audience members applauded as the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-1 for the bill, putting it in line for a Senate floor vote later this session.
The bill by Republican Sen. Tim Melson would allow people to be prescribed medical marijuana for 15 conditions including cancer, anxiety and chronic pain, and to purchase cannabis products at a licensed dispensary. The bill would allow marijuana in forms such as pills, gelatinous cubes, oils, skin patches, gels and creams but not products consumed by smoking or vaping.
Advocates crowded into a public hearing at the Alabama Statehouse to watch the debate and tell lawmakers their stories.
“This bill is not about getting high. This bill is about getting well,” said Dr. Alan Shackelford, a Colorado doctor who described the success of using medical marijuana in people with seizures and cancer.
Christi Cain said her son Hardy’s debilitating seizures have been helped by CBD oil, now legal, in Alabama, but said the higher doses that could help him more aren’t legal in the state.
“An area code shouldn’t affect one health’s care. If Hardy didn’t live in Alabama, he could be seizure-free. We shouldn’t have to be and don’t want to be medical refugees,” Cain said.
The bill drew opposition from some law enforcement and conservative groups. They expressed concern about dosing, safety and the potential for abuse.
“Just because we put the word medical in front of marijuana does not make it medicine,” Shelby County Sheriff’s Capt. Clay Hammac said.
Pastor Rick Hagans described addicts he buried. He said while they obviously didn’t overdose on marijuana, they started their drug use with pot.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall sent lawmakers a letter expressing his opposition, and noting that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
Medical marijuana advocates have for years made little headway in Montgomery.
A medical marijuana bill in 2013 won the so-called “Shroud Award” for the “deadest” bill that year in the House of Representatives. A bill cleared the Alabama Senate last year, but the idea faces continued skepticism in the House of Representatives.