Brian Lyman, Montgomery Advertiser Published 2:52 p.m. CT Aug. 13, 2019 | Updated 3:19 p.m. CT Aug. 13, 2019
More than 60% of people who use medical marijuana want to relieve chronic pain. Wochit, Montgomery Advertiser
As he fought Parkinson’s Disease, Dan Atkinson’s legs “felt like they were in vise grips,” his wife Cynthia remembered on Tuesday. He had to take opioids to try to fall asleep.
But for two weeks in Colorado, they were able to try CBD patches on the legs of the former WSFA meteorologist, who died in 2017. The patches, Cynthia Atkinson said, “took the cramping away,” though they could only use them for the time they were in the Centennial State.
“I’m passionate about it,” Atkinson, an Auburn real estate broker, said on Tuesday after the first meeting of the state’s Medical Cannabis Study Commission. “I saw the relief he received from this … he wanted to work on having something done, to have this legalized for a medicinal purpose.”
For Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, who sponsored the bill that created the commission, the medical end will be the purpose.
“The purpose is to discuss and flesh out medical cannabis in a way that we can come up with a bill that can provide medical cannabis to those who need it and keep it out of the hands of those who don’t,” he said at the start of the meeting on Tuesday.
The commission must hold at least three public meetings and submit a report and proposed legislation by Dec. 1. The legislature’s 2020 session begins in February.
The commission begins work at a time when legislative attitudes toward medical cannabis have softened, even if outside opposition hasn’t. Legislators in 2014 and 2016 approved the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil in a study at UAB. Medical marijuana has also gained support as a possible way of reducing consumption of opioids.
Last May, the Senate approved legislation sponsored by Melson that would have authorized medical marijuana for 12 different conditions, if two physicians signed on and more traditional treatments proved ineffective.
But the House balked at the legislation. Attorney General Steve Marshall raised concerns about regulating THC levels in CBD oil, and the Alabama chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics also raised concerns about medical marijuana access. Melson and other sponsors agreed to replace the authorization with a study commission. Supporters hope it will help convince representatives to change their minds on the topic.
Barry Matson, the executive director of the Alabama District Attorneys’ Association, said after the meeting Tuesday he was in a wait-and-see position, adding that “deliberation is the prudent thing to do before you do anything.”
“I don’t think law enforcement should ever get between a doctor and patient in a lawful situation,” he said. “That’s a medical decision, and we will make sure it stays that way.”
Tuesday’s meeting of the commission was mainly done for organizational purposes. The commission elected Melson chairman and Dr. Steven Stokes, an oncologist from Dothan, vice-chair. Both are supporters of medical marijuana.
Most of the discussion focused on safeguards and regulations in Melson’s original medical marijuana legislation, a bill that will likely serve as a starting point for any legislation the commission recommends.
Melson’s bill also provided a patient registry of marijuana users; a commission to oversee cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana and allowed employers to forbid medical marijuana use on their property. Other topics discussed included how the law might allow the ingestion of medical marijuana. Stokes, who recommends medical marijuana for patients he works with in Florida, where medical marijuana is available, said there are many options.
“We typically use drops, drops on the tongue,” he said. “We have an aerosol form we put in vaping machines.”
Most commission members kept their stance on medical marijuana to themselves. Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook, who is not a member of the commission, told them employers had raised concerns.
“They tell me, ‘You’ve got to stop it in your state or it’s going to ruin your employment,'” he said.
” I think we have the same employment problem, but it’s opioids,” Melson replied.
The commission could next meet in Mobile in early September. Atkinson said she supported the commission’s approach, and says her husband would have, too.
“I think regulation in the way they’re proposing is the way to go, honestly,” she said. “The key to me, and to him as well, is the clinical, scientific aspect.”
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