By PHILLIP RAWLS
Associated Press Writer
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Legislation to legalize the use of marijuana for medical reasons is likely dead for this session of the Alabama Legislature because a House committee Wednesday decided the measure needed more study.
But the bill's sponsor, Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, said she plans to try again next session.
"This is not a criminal justice issue. It's a medical issue," Hall told the House Judiciary Committee.
Hall wants to allow Alabamians with chronic or persistent medical conditions, ranging from cancer to AIDS to migrane headaches, to acquire or cultivate marijuana under a doctor's direction. Hall's bill provides that if a patient couldn't acquire or grow the marijuana, then the primary caregivers could.
After discussing her bill Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee decided by a voice vote to send it to a subcommittee for more study. Committee Chairman Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, said the bill "doesn't have a good chance of making it to the final line" this session because time is nearly out, but he'd like to see it again next session.
"It's an idea definitely worth pursuing," he said.
During the committee's debate, Rep. Albert Morton, R-Birmingham, said he was concerned that marijuana prescribed for medical reasons would find its way into the illegal drug trade. "The problems would be much worse than the good it could do for a few," he said.
Hall said little marijuana would be involved because experience in other states has shown few people ask a doctor to prescribe marijuana.
"There are many more drugs that are more dangerous and addictive that are being prescribed every day," she said.
Rep. Howard Sanderford, R-Huntsville, said Alabama shouldn't pass any legislation until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the U.S. attorney general's legal challenge to California's medical marijuana law. The Supreme Court heard arguments in November, but has not indicated when it will decide the case.
Enacting a law before the Supreme Court rules would submit Alabama to expensive litigation, Sanderford said.
Hall told the committee that her personal experience caused her to pursue the medical marijuana legislation. She said her son suffered from terrible pain after being diagnosed with AIDS in 1989, and the drugs that were available before his death three years later did not alleviate his pain.
"If this option had been available, my son and I would have requested from the physician the option to have this," she said.
Rep. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, said he is sympathetic to patients with severe pain who think marijuana might help, but he said they should have to get it through a pharmacy like any other pain killer. He said allowing patients and their caregivers to grow marijuana "seems pretty broad."
I was at the Judiciary Committee Hearing for this bill today and this report makes it sound a lot worse than it was.
Only two House members on the Committee were adamantly opposed and the others were either for it or will be once some things are cleared up.
A sub-committee was formed and as I understood it they are to meet back with the Judiciary Committee next week if they have worked out the kinks.
I'll write more on this later.