Ever since Alaska became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in 1998, the topic of marijuana legislation continues to sweep through the nation.
Two-thirds of the United States has either approved or pending medical marijuana legislation already on the books.
But which side of the coin does Alabama appear in regards to the issue?
According to the Alabama Legislative Information System Online, Alabama currently has two pieces of pro-medical marijuana legislation in the works in the House of Representatives, one that will not necessarily legalize its use for medicinal purposes and one that would establish parameters and guidelines for legalizing marijuana for medicinal use.
House Bill 104, introduced to the House Judiciary Committee Jan. 14 by Reps. Mike Ball, R-Madison; Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham; and Allen Farley, R-McCalla, would provide a defense of necessity in a prosecution for unlawful possession of marijuana in the second degree “when the defendant has been diagnosed by a physician with having a debilitating medical condition and possesses cannabidiol that is likely to provide therapeutic or palliative relief to the medical condition."
The bill includes a provision for defense of a parent or legal guardian who possesses cannabidiol on behalf of a minor with a debilitating medical condition.
Nearly a month later, Todd introduced House Bill 488, known as the Alabama Marijuana Protection Act, which would not only would establish a medical exemption for the possession and personal use of marijuana for qualifying patients diagnosed by a physician as having a serious medical condition and issued a valid medical marijuana identification card, it would also re-categorize possession of one ounce or less of marijuana as a civil offense.
The scope of medical illnesses covered by HB 488 includes AIDS, anorexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, cancer, chronic depression, diabetes, glaucoma, post traumatic stress disorder, seizures and more than a dozen other ailments.
Both house bills remain in pending committee action status in the House of Representatives, with HB 104 receiving tweaks and being repackaged as HB 207.
State Sen. Jerry Fielding, R-Sylacauga, noted the Senate has a bill regarding marijuana legislation in the works, Senate Bill 174, which recently came out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The bill known as ‘Carly’s Law’ features similar provisions to HB 104.
Fielding did not seem optimistic about the bill’s chances of receiving complete passage through the Senate.
“I didn’t vote for it because the medical community has not come out in favor of it and there have been no studies, long-term or short-term, justifying the administration of these types of medicines,” Fielding said. “I’m all for parents being able to take care of their children as best as they can, but I’m afraid until the medical community comes out an advocates it, and then we also has a study to show the it is in fact a proper remedy for the procedures and other illnesses that children may have, I have to vote against it.
“I rely significantly on the medical community to give me advice about what’s good for treating patients,” Fielding said. “As far as I know, the Alabama Medical Association has not endorsed either one of these bills, and until they do, I wouldn’t feel comfortable voting for these particular bills.”
But there are numerous sources of information readily available, such ProCon.Org, a non-profit website that promotes critical thinking, education and informed citizenship by presenting controversial topics in a straight-forward, nonpartisan, primarily pro-con format.
The site provides detailed breakdowns on the pros and cons of medicinal marijuana, featuring quotes from medical professionals across the country rendering an opinion on the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of marijuana for a particular ailment. Also included are a section of risks associated with the illness as well as a state-by-state breakdown of any pending legislation in each state.
Individuals seeking more information may view the website at http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org.
Talladega County Sheriff Jimmy Kilgore stated while he may not be qualified to render an opinion on any perceived medical benefits of marijuana, he could point out how the decision to make medicinal marijuana legal could negatively impact law enforcement personnel.
“I haven’t seen any research or know what the benefits of it really are,” Kilgore said. “I know there are other drugs prescribed for patients of different illnesses that can also be harmful if they’re abused or misused, and I think that’s the concern with the marijuana. It is not, from a law enforcement perspective, so much about the person it’s prescribed for, but it falling into the hands of others and things of that nature. It presents challenges and problems for us in the law enforcement field.”
Cropwell resident Larry Mize, prefacing his comments by stating he has never indulged in marijuana use for medicinal or recreational purposes, said he believes marijuana should be legalized for the former purposes.
“If pain or any other symptoms of a disease are alleviated by a form of medical marijuana, by all means, let them have it,” Mize said.
When asked whether the subject should be something given to the people to vote on in a referendum versus legislators making the decision for the people, Mize surmised it would be a losing battle either way.
“I will always say the people should vote themselves on any issue,” Mize said. “But let’s face it. This is the heart of the Bible belt. The same people voting on this would be the same people voting that oppose the lottery that would help fund education and create a ‘good students’ college fund’ similar to the one Georgia has in place.”
Contact Shane Dunaway at firstname.lastname@example.org