Brian Lyman, Montgomery Advertiser Published 10:36 a.m. CT May 24, 2019 | Updated 10:45 a.m. CT May 24, 2019
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If the Alabama House of Representatives passes a medical marijuana bill, it will likely be a measure to study the issue, not authorize it.
Supporters said Thursday that the legislation will likely change to create a commission to study approaches, create regulations and recommend future legislation on the issue, but insisted that change would not necessarily alter their preferred timeline for making medical cannabis available in Alabama.
“We had it in the original bill that it didn’t start until 2021,” said Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, the sponsor of the bill, on Thursday. “By doing this, we’re taking it a step at a time. We’ll get there at the end of the line at the same time. It wouldn’t delay us at all.”
But it would be a step back from the measure passed by the Alabama Senate on May 9. That bill would allow individuals to use medical marijuana for 12 separate conditions if other therapies failed to work. The listed conditions included cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, opioid addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Patients using medical marijuana would need approved from two physicians to do so, and pay a $65 annual fee to obtain a card allowing them to use it. The bill would also have created a state commission to oversee production and regulate use and consumption of medical marijuana.
But the measure may have been too ambitious for some members of the lower chamber.
“There were some issues concerning the way the marijuana, the THC drug would be prescribed,” said House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, on Thursday. “There were some issues in the enforcement of that. There were some issues dealing with the way the drug would be administered.”
In its place, supporters of the legislation expect legislation in the House Health Committee on Tuesday to create a commission to study medical marijuana and develop legislation that they hope would be ready for the 2020 regular session, which begins next February.
“The commission is charged with drafting the legislation to implement and to come up with their plan and how they’re going to do it,” said Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, who was leading House efforts to legalize medical marijuana. “It authorizes them to come up with a good plan that works. We want to give them authority with oversight and to make this work.”
The Alabama Legislature in 2014 authorized patients enrolled in a study at the University of Alabama Birmingham to use cannabidiol (CBD) oil, a derivative of marijuana. That study has suggested CBD can help control seizures in some patients. Ball helped lead those efforts.
“We’re following the evidence,” Ball said. “The evidence is there that we need to take this step so people can be helped. I’m extremely hopeful.”
McCutcheon suggested Thursday that the introduction of medical marijuana in Alabama would be a long-term project.
“What I see happening with that bill now is it’s in the educational phase,” he said. “Members are studying. We’re listening to the proponents and opponents on it. We’re gathering information, and that’s why I think this study commission will be very significant.”
Melson said he was confident that medical marijuana would come to Alabama.
“By establishing this commission, it’s like establishing any other agency,” he said. “It’s going to happen. It’s just establishing it piece by piece.”
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