An Alabama Senate committee on Wednesday morning approved a bill that would allow the use of medical marijuana in certain cases.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, would authorize the use of medical marijuana for conditions ranging from addiction and chronic pain to depression and schizophrenia. A patient would need a prescription from a physician as well as a second opinion from a specialist in their field to obtain marijuana.
Melson emphasized the potential benefits of marijuana for patients and the possibility that its availability could cut down on opioid use in a state trying to get a hold of the issue.
“This is not going to be the first line of defense in the treatment of a disease,” he said. “It will be one of several down the road, and we want to make sure all physicians are compliant with that, making sure they’ve tried several therapies before they resort to this.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill 6 to 2, with three abstentions, but the legislation seems likely to be heavily scrutinized before it gets to the floor of the Senate for a vote if it ever does. Representatives of law enforcement and physicians’ groups voiced objections to the measure.
Clay Hammac, director of the Shelby County Drug Enforcement Task Force, argued that medical marijuana could be the first step toward broader legalization.
“This is the first step into recreational use,” he said. “That may not be the position of the committee, but that is the optics for constituents.”
Linda Lee, executive director of the Alabama chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, expressed concerns about treatments being prescribed outside the regulatory approval process.
“We recognize that anecdotal accounts have shown that certain marijuana compounds could benefit some children with chronic life-limiting debilitating conditions,” she said. “We have no doubt about that. However, we are truly concerned these are not studied.”
Proponents strongly denied the purpose was to legalize marijuana generally. They included parents of children who have enrolled in a UAB study on how cannabidiol (CBD) oil, a marijuana derivative, can control seizures. Dustin Chandler, whose daughter Carly was the namesake of a 2014 law authorizing the study, said Carly had shown significant improvement.
“If my nonverbal child could stand here and tell you one thing, it would be please help the other people in Alabama get the help I’m getting myself,” he said. “My daughter is the reason I’m standing before you today.”
Gena Dalton came to the meeting with her 6-year-old daughter Charlotte, who suffers from Dravet Syndrome, a disorder marked by severe seizures. Charlotte gets treatment from CBD oil and “rescue doses” of THC when she suffers seizures.
“Before the cannabis oil, she was having about 50 grand mal seizures a month, so that was more than one a day,” she said. “She was in a wheelchair … if she wasn’t seizing, she was recovering from a seizure.”
The CBD, Dalton said, cut the number of seizures and helped “remove some of the fog from her.”
“Immediately we were seeing fewer seizures,” she said. “We had seizures every day, and then suddenly we didn’t have one for two or three days, and then three or four days. It was a little bit of a gradual build up.”
The bill moves to the full Senate.