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Lawmakers says Medical Marijuana Won't "Survive" Alabama Legislature
It's legal across 17 states for people suffering with pain and chronic illness to be prescribed medical marijuana, and now Alabama lawmakers are starting the conversation to see if Alabama could be next.
"Under Alabama law, I'm a criminal because of what I do," said Christopher Butts, the Vice President of the Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition.
Butts was one voice speaking for many at a public hearing discussing the legalization of medicinal marijuana in Alabama. Representative Jim McClendon, R-Shelby County, and chairman of the House Health Committee hosted the hearing Wednesday afternoon.
Butts shared with the room how he's suffered chronic spinal and back pain for nearly two decades, but marijuana, even though it's illegal in Alabama, is worth the risk to ease his condition.
"It has been my primary pain management for 15 years now and I'm never going back to the pharmaceuticals," Butts said.
The Alabama Medicinal Marijuana Coalition is asking lawmakers to help protect patients like Butts by allowing physicians to prescribe marijuana.
"Before, I was a legal pain pill addict, I lost a job, I lost a marriage, I lost relationships with my children," Butts said explaining the downside to Alabama's current laws.
Like many others at the hearing, Butts says his quality of life improved when he started using marijuana instead of pain medication.
Another older woman from Prattville visited the podium to share her story, and with her she brought a gallon-sized ziploc bag full of prescription drugs.
"I'm in pain 24/7 with that right there," Faye Medlock told the Health Committee. She listed a number of medications prescribed to her by doctors to help her pain and ailments: Oxycontin, Oxycodone, Xanax, Lortabs and Fentanyl Patches.
"With these I would be nothing, I would not be a person," Medlock said. "[Marijuana] works."
But for as many people who advocated for the legalization of medicinal marijuana, an equal number stood in front of the committee to advise against it.
"My heart goes out to people who are dealing with chronic pain," said Dr. Joe Godfrey, a pastor and executive director of the Alabama Citizens action program. "My concern is when you legalize something and you open that door, you crack it to let something else in, and you begin to open up the opportunity for others to come in and push that door wider."
The discussion was inspired by The Alabama Medical Marijuana Patients Rights Act, sponsored by Representative Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham. Todd says like passing many other controversial laws in Alabama, medicinal marijuana is an uphill battle.
"Whether it be women's right to vote, to African Americans having the right to vote, I mean this is all a process, so you have to keep pushing and pushing and pushing people," Todd said.
Todd was referring to people like her colleagues, including Health Committee Chairman McClendon.
"Until there is a dramatic change from the people in Alabama, I dont see this issue coming before the health committee, I dont see it surviving the health committee and I dont see it surviving the house floor," Rep. McClendon said.
In the closing remarks of the meeting, nearly all of the Health Committee either chose not to comment, or agreed with Rep. McClendon, that medical marijuana will not pass in Alabama.
Rep. Todd, however is hopeful because there are several months before the 2013 Legislative Session in February. She has been trying to pass similar versions of her medicinal marijuana bill for the past four years.
Click to read the Alabama Medical Marijuana Patients Rights Act.