Alabama commission discusses draft of medical marijuana bill

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For the last three months, the commission appointed to determine whether medical marijuana is right for Alabama has held public hearings and heard testimony. Now, the panel might have something to show for it: actual legislation.

Tim Melson, a Republican state senator who serves as chair of the Alabama Medical Marijuana Study Commission, said last week that he has a draft of a medical marijuana bill that is nearly ready to be proposed in the legislature.

The commission, which was born out of a failed effort to legalize medical marijuana earlier this year, discussed Melson’s proposal at the group’s meeting in Montgomery on Thursday.

Melson and his colleagues on the study commission face a December 1 deadline to offer up a bill, as well as a report of their findings to the legislature.

“It’s a little tighter,” Melson said of the draft bill, as quoted by the Montgomery Advertiser. “It’s 70-something pages. It’s got a lot we’ve got to work on, but it’s getting close.”

The 15-person Alabama Medical Marijuana Study Commission has been meeting since August, holding hearings and listening to divergent views on the subject.

It was created after a bill proposed earlier this year by Melson was stymied in the state legislature. Melson’s bill would have made marijuana legal for patients suffering from roughly a dozen conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Legalization Draws Debate

Other lawmakers blanched at the proposal, calling for more information, and so Melson’s bill went from a proposal to make Alabama one of more than 30 states to legalize medical cannabis to one that established the study commission.

“It’s a big step,” Melson said of his colleagues’ reluctance to embrace medical marijuana. “And everybody is stepping out of their comfort zone. You’re asking for a Schedule I drug to be given to patients. And it’s the same drug that’s been enjoyed and abused by people throughout the years, centuries and centuries.”

Under the revised legislation, the commission was required to hold at least three public hearings.

At the first meeting in August, the commission heard testimony from Cynthia Atkinson, the widow of a local meteorologist, Dan Atkinson, who died from Parkinson’s in 2017.

Atkinson and her late husband traveled to Colorado in 2015 to seek treatment. There, he found relief from patches containing THC.

But upon returning to Alabama, Atkinson said her husband relied on opioids toward the end of his life.

“He had Parkinson’s for over 10 years,” she said. “At times his legs, most of the time for the last three years, his legs would feel like he was in vice grips.”

The commission has also heard from skeptics. At a meeting in September, Stephen Taylor, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and addiction psychiatrist who sits on the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, insisted that marijuana is not medicine.

“If it hasn’t been validated as a medicine, we shouldn’t be calling it medical marijuana or medical cannabis,” he said at the time.

Thursday’s meeting, which was the last time the commission will convene before the deadline, also drew testimony from advocates and skeptics alike. It is unclear which of those camps will win out, but what does seem certain is that the legislature will have a new bill to consider when it reconvenes in February.

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