MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A medicinal marijuana bill has moved one step closer to a floor vote in the Alabama Senate, where it faces an uncertain future.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-2 for the bill after a brief public hearing Wednesday. It now moves to the full Senate where the proposal has previously met resistance. Republican Sen. Tim Melson of Florence acknowledged he has work to do to alleviate concerns about his bill before it goes to a floor vote.
The bill would set up state oversight, regulations and a process for prescribing marijuana to treat certain conditions. Patients with a valid medical cannabis card could not be charged with the crime of marijuana possession.
"This isn't Cheech and Chong smoking a bong. This is about treating patients and having tight control," Melson said.
Gena Dalton of Madison walked the halls of the Statehouse with her 6-year-old daughter Charlotte to ask lawmakers to support the bill. Charlotte has Dravet syndrome, a form of epilepsy. She had been debilitated by daily seizures and had to use a wheelchair, but improved greatly after being treated with cannabis oil, her mother said.
"She is walking and talking. She got to go to swimming. ... All of that would have been impossible," Dalton said.
Dalton said as Charlotte grows, she needs doses that are currently illegal under Alabama's marijuana law.
Opponents asked lawmakers to keep all marijuana illegal.
They argued marijuana's effects have not been adequately studied, particularly on children, and legalizing medical marijuana would send the wrong message to young people about the drug.
"This is the first step into recreational use," said Clay Hammac, who does narcotics enforcement for the Shelby County Sheriff's Office. "We should have the bold conviction in saying this is a drug. I don't care what the industry is saying, the multi-billion dollar industry is saying. ... We need to be steadfast in our stance and say this is not a healthy alternative."
Republican Rep. Mike Ball, a former state trooper, is sponsoring the bill in the House.
"The public gets it. That's not a problem. It's mostly political. It's fear in politics," Ball said. He also led the earlier push to allow cannabis oil.
"If five years ago, if somebody told me I'd be the marijuana guy, I would say nooooo," Ball said dragging out the word no. "But I'm an investigator. I followed the evidence and here I am."