Sen. Tim Melson

Sen. Tim Melson

Lawmakers on the Alabama Medical Marijuana Study Commission say they’re confident they can get a bill approved in the 2020 legislative session, but some law enforcement groups are raising concerns.

“I don’t see how we don’t pass it,” said 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 a medical marijuana bill that passed the Senate this year, but the House changed it to instead create this study commission.

The commission met Thursday to go over new draft legislation.

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

Barry Matson, director of Alabama’s District Attorneys Association, said the new draft doesn't have enough regulations 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 who also sits on President Donald Trump’s opioid commission, shared similar concerns.

She said 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 toothache,” 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 conditions 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.

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 Dec. 1 deadline to submit its draft legislation. The Legislature's 2020 session begins Feb. 4.
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