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Medical marijuana commission finalizing 2020 bill

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

Some north Alabama lawmakers on the Alabama Medical Marijuana Study Commission say they’re confident they can get legislation approved during the 2020 legislative session, but at least some law enforcement groups are already raising concern.

“I don’t see how we don’t pass it,” Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison. “I think we are going to have a very good bill, probably even a better bill than what we had before.”

Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, sponsored the medical marijuana bill that passed out of the Senate in the 2019 session. In the House, lawmakers changed the legalization bill to instead create this study commission.

The commission on Thursday went over new draft legislation.

“It’s got a lot we still need to work on but it’s getting close,” Melson, a medical doctor, said. “I’ve tried to address everyone’s concerns that’s come forward with them.”

Barry Matson, director of Alabama’s District Attorneys Association, said he was concerned that not enough regulations are currently in the legislation to keep medical marijuana out of the hands of those who won’t use it medically.

“I’m telling you, it will be used and abused, from the doctor’s side, from the dispensary side and from the patients’ side,” Matson said. “If you’re going to do it, you need to do it right because so many states took an emotional vote and jumped into it prematurely.”

Bertha Madras, a professor of psychobiology at Harvard Medical School and also sits on President Donald Trump’s opioid commission, shared some of the same concerns as Matson.

She said that some of the qualifying medical conditions listed in the legislation to use medical cannabis are too vague and can open the door for any illness to be added to the list.

“Pain is an indecipherable condition, because you don’t have an objective way of measuring it, unless you have a fracture or gallbladder disease or a ruptured appendix or a tooth ache,” Madras said. “So what has happened is the slippery slope of moving towards the use of marijuana for a number of conditions for which there isn’t an objective diagnosis or a biometric.”

Some of the qualifying medical conditions the draft legislation lists are Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, epilepsy or condition causing seizures, HIV/AIDS-related nausea or weight loss, post-traumatic stress disorder and sleep disorders.

The draft legislation contains stipulations for licensing dispensaries, advertisement of the drug, a statewide seed-to-sale tracking system and many other regulatory measures.

As at previous commission meetings, the group heard from Alabamians desperate for relief from pain, seizures and other conditions.

The Alabama Attorney General’s office did not yet have a comment on the draft bill Thursday.

Gina Maiola, a spokeswoman for Gov. Kay Ivey, said the governor “is remaining engaged and is aware of the complexities of the issue.”

Thursday’s meeting was the last one before the commission’s December 1st deadline for legislation. The 2020 regular session of the Alabama Legislature begins Feb. 4.

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