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House debates medical marijuana into the night

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Legislation to authorize medical marijuana in Alabama stalled Tuesday in the state House of Representatives after Republican opponents used a filibuster to at least temporarily delay a vote.

Representatives adjourned shortly before midnight without a vote after nearly 10 hours of debate on the Senate-passed bill.

The bill is expected to return to the House floor on Thursday.

The lengthy debate brought impassioned discussion that included lawmakers expressing fervent opposition or how they changed their minds on the issue after the illnesses of family members.

The bill would allow people with a qualifying medical condition to purchase marijuana after getting a recommendation from a doctor. More than a dozen conditions, including cancer, a terminal illness, depression, epilepsy, panic disorder and chronic pain would allow a person to qualify. The bill would allow marijuana in forms such as pills, skin patches and creams but not in smoking or vaping products.

The bill was sponsored by Republican Sen. Tim Melson, an anesthesiologist, and handled in the House by Republican Rep. Mike Ball, a former state trooper and state investigator.

“This can change the quality of life for the people that we love,” said Republican Rep. Allen Farley, a former police officer, describing how his 94-year-old mother at the end of her life entered a facility that treats people with dementia.
Republican Rep. Brett Easterbrook of Fruitdale said he is “as conservative as they get” but saw the positive impact medical marijuana had on his son.

“I watched it … There is not one of you sitting in those chairs, if your child has a brain injury or cancer and this will help, you won’t give a damn what the Legislature says,” Easterbrook said.

The bill faced a filibuster from opposed Republicans who worried that it could be a gateway to recreational use or that medical marijuana could end up in the hands of teens.

“Don’t ever doubt it, if the state of Alabama gets into the marijuana business, the cannabis business, it will change the very fabric of who we are as a state,” said Republican Rep. Jim Carnes of Vestavia Hills.

Other lawmakers expressed concern that marijuana has not gone through the Food and Drug Administration approval process for drugs or that it could lead to traffic accidents.

“What makes us think we know more than the FDA. My other thought is what if we’re wrong. What if we approve and pass this bill and it is a gateway like it has been for Colorado,” said Republican Rep. Rich Wingo of Tuscaloosa.

The Alabama Senate approved the bill by a 21-8 vote in February after 15 minutes of debate. However, the House of Representatives has traditionally been more skeptical of medical marijuana proposals and required the bill to go through two committees before coming to the floor.

A medical marijuana bill in 2013 won the “Shroud Award” for the “deadest” bill that year in the House of Representatives.
Representatives on Tuesday voted 69-31 to bring the bill up for a debate, an indicator that the bill could have enough support for final passage if it reaches a vote.

“I have no doubt it is going to pass if it is given a vote,” Melson said.

Melson, an anesthesiologist who now works in medical research, said he believes medical marijuana can provide relief to patients where other drugs have failed.

“It’s the last choice to be used by a doctor so if there is an illness where everything else has failed, why not let them try it,” Melson said.

Democratic Rep. Ralph Howard of Greensboro criticized the Republican filibuster against the bill. He described how his father struggled with the pain of cancer that had spread to his brain.

“Who am I to tell you how to treat a sick relative. A drug is a drug,” Howard said.

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