MONTGOMERY — Two north Alabamians spoke passionately from opposite sides of the medical marijuana debate Wednesday at a House Health Committee hearing.
The hearing was an early step in the process to try to legalize marijuana for medical use. But Morgan County Republican lawmakers said after the hearing that Alabama isn’t ready for legalized pot and didn’t give proponents much hope of seeing a bill pass in the next legislative session.
“We always appreciate people becoming involved in politics, but sometimes I think it’s good to be quite frank with people,” said House Majority Leader Micky Hammon, R-Decatur. “In this conservative Legislature, there is no appetite for legal medical marijuana. The people of the state do not want medical marijuana.”
Well, a few do. About 75 supporters were outside the Alabama State House before the hearing to show their support of its legalization. Among them was Christopher Butts, of Cullman, co-president of the Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition. He said his group has collected more than 10,000 signatures of support in the past two years.
Butts told the committee he became a prescription drug addict 15 years ago when doctors were trying to treat his spinal compression injury. His addiction led to the break-up of his marriage and the loss of his job. He was on his way to taxpayer-supported permanent disability, he told the committee.
Now, instead of pills, he treats his back by ingesting marijuana cookies or brownies each day.
“I assure you, that is much better than three oxycontin,” said Butts, now married and gainfully employed. “(Legalized marijuana) will help people like me.”
Jeannie Arnold, of Muscle Shoals, urged lawmakers not to legalize marijuana. She told the committee about her 4-year-old granddaughter, who was killed in a south Georgia car wreck in 2010.
The driver of the vehicle that caused the wreck had been smoking marijuana, she said.
“(Marijuana) is the safe drug that doesn’t kill anybody?” Arnold said. “My family will tell you a different story.”
Other opponents included the Alabama Medical Association and law enforcement representatives.
Bills to legalize medical marijuana in Alabama have been around for nearly a decade, but have never gotten much traction. Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, has said she will sponsor another in the 2013 legislative session that would legalize limited amounts of prescribed medical marijuana for adults.
Todd, an assistant director at AIDS Alabama, told her colleagues Wednesday medical marijuana could ease needless suffering at the end of life by easing pain, increasing appetites and generally improving patients’ overall quality of life.
“I’d like to ask each of you to think about the person that you love most in the world,” she said. “And imagine they have been diagnosed with cancer or some other terminal disease. Imagine that person miserable. You probably would do anything to eliminate that pain and suffering. I know I would.”
Committee member Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, said he didn’t hear anything Wednesday that would make him support a medical marijuana bill and said if a vote were taken by the committee today, he doesn’t think it will pass.
Nowhere in Henry’s House district are alcohol sales legal, so it is probably not surprising that he said he hasn’t heard any support for medical marijuana from constituents.
“Until there is an outcry, we’re not going to do anything,” Henry said.
Rep. Jim Patterson, R-Meridianville, agreed.
“We heard from some people who are using (marijuana) and think it is helping them, and it is hard to look them in the eye and say we’re not going to help them, but I just don’t think Alabama is ready for medical marijuana,” he said.
Any bill that Todd sponsors in 2013 would have to be voted on first by the Health committee, and then the full House, where it would not have support, Hammon said.
“I was letting them know in the nicest way possible that this mountain is too steep for them to climb, and they will not be successful,” Hammon said after the hearing.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Robert Bentley said Wednesday that Bentley, a former physician, does not support medical marijuana.
Seventeen states allow people with certain medical conditions to use marijuana, The Associated Press reported. Meanwhile, voters in Colorado and Washington state last week approved the use of recreational marijuana.
Mary Sell is Montgomery bureau chief for the TimesDaily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.