A plan to allow the production and use of medical marijuana in Alabama advanced a step in the State House today.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on the bill by Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, then voted to approve the bill. The vote was 6-2 with three abstentions.
The bill by Melson, a physician, would allow people with certain conditions to receive a medical cannabis card and would create a Medical Cannabis Commission, which would issue the cards and also licenses for the cultivation, production and sales of medical marijuana.
A medical marijuana bill is also pending in the Alabama House of Representatives.
Melson, whose professional work involves medical research, said he did not take the issue lightly and was willing to hear concerns as the bill advances to the Senate floor.
‚ÄúYou‚Äôve got take everything as it is and let this go by the facts, not the emotions,‚ÄĚ Melson said.
Clay Hammac, commander of Shelby County Drug Enforcement, said the bill would send an incorrect message that marijuana is safe and would hurt efforts to enforce the law against it.
Dr. Jerzy Szaflarski, a neurology professor at UAB who was one of the leaders in a study on the treatment epilepsy with a cannabis derivative, spoke in favor of the bill. The study was authorized by Carly‚Äôs Law, which was passed by the Legislature in 2014.
‚ÄúThere is potential for a cannabis to be helpful in many conditions,‚ÄĚ Szaflarski said. “We need to explore that. At this point we are very limited by the laws and having a law that is more permissive will allow us to try it in patients who have various conditions where it may work that currently have no access to cannabis products.”
In addition to epilepsy, Szaflarski, said there is evidence medical marijuana or cannabis-derived products can help patients with pain, multiple sclerosis, and muscle cramps associated with Lou Gehrig‚Äôs disease.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs a lot of evidence that it will help muscle spasms. A lot of evidence that it helps pain. Patients with fibromyalgia report a much better symptom relief than using the standard prescription medications. There are multiple other conditions,‚ÄĚ he said.
Szaflarski said authorization of the use of medical marijuana for chronic pain could help reduce the problem of opioid addiction.
‚ÄúThere is a host of potential conditions that we may be able to use cannabis products,‚ÄĚ he said. “Arthritis, back pain, migraines.”
Linda Lee, executive director of the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, spoke against the bill, saying that the academy opposes any medical marijuana usage that falls outside Food and Drug Administration regulations.
‚ÄúWe recognize that anecdotal accounts have shown that certain marijuana compounds can benefit some children with chronic, life-limiting, debilitating conditions,‚ÄĚ Lee said. “We have no doubt about that.”
But Lee said the academy has concerns about the lack of study on medical marijuana products and the dangers of of the products falling into the hands of children.
In addition, Lee said the FDA has approved four drugs from marijuana derivatives, one CBD-based and three THC-based.
‚ÄúThe FDA does extensive research that we in our state don‚Äôt have,‚ÄĚ Lee said. “These four drugs are already approved. So, therefore, this law is not needed.”
Dustin Chandler of Hoover, who led other families in a successful lobbying effort to pass Carly‚Äôs Law five years ago, spoke to the committee in favor of the bill. Chandler said his daughter Carly, who suffers from a condition that caused frequent and severe seizures, has been helped by the cannabidiol prescribed in the study.
‚ÄúIf my daughter could talk, she‚Äôs receiving help and I know she would tell me to say, ‚ÄėDaddy, why aren‚Äôt we helping other people?‚Äô‚ÄĚ Chandler said.
‚ÄúKnowing it could potentially help thousands if not millions of more people, why are we not doing that.‚ÄĚ
The medical marijuana bill in the House is sponsored by Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, a retired law enforcement investigator. It has not been heard in committee yet.