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State Senate bill defends use of marijuana oilcomment (0)

February 27, 2014

By Julie Payne

With medical marijuana making headlines in Alabama, a bill was approved Feb. 5 in Alabama’s Senate Judiciary Committee that would provide a defense for the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil — a marijuana derivative — for debilitating medical conditions.

The bill, Senate Bill (SB) 174 sponsored by Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, is a companion bill to House Bill (HB) 104, which was pending committee action at press time. 

If passed by the Legislature, the bill would be called Carly’s Law, named after a 2-year-old Birmingham girl who has uncontrollable seizures caused by a genetic disorder. 

Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, is a retired agent of the Alabama Bureau of Investigation and is sponsor of HB 104 along with co-sponsors Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, and Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla. 

Ball said the bill’s purpose is to protect patients and families from prosecution for possessing a substance “that has potential to provide great relief with little, if any, proven harmful side effects and almost no apparent potential for abuse or recreational use.”

According to Ball, HB 104 started as the result of an email from the mother of a child suffering from seizures who had heard about a strain of marijuana with very low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels and very high cannabidiol levels. Ball said as he began to research CBD oils, he “began to realize the potential this has to help suffering people, particularly children.”  

“The potential medicinal value of this particular strain of marijuana far outweighs any potential for abuse,” he added. “I do not believe it is an appropriate use of our limited law enforcement resources to prosecute these people.”  

After HB 104 was introduced, Ball said he learned of several changes he believed would improve the bill. 

“Out of an abundance of caution, we placed a limit of 3 percent allowable THC level on the CBD oil,” well below the 20 percent level commonly found in marijuana used for recreational purposes, he explained.

Ball added that language in SB 174 was tightened to ensure the law would only apply to the oil that is free of plant material. “The Alabama Medical Association also recommended language regarding those who might have ailments that could benefit from the oil. These recommended changes were incorporated into SB 174,” he said, noting that while HB 104 was the “starting point,” SB 174 is the bill he hopes to pass.

Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, voted against SB 174 in the Senate Judiciary Committee, noting several reasons for his opposition.

“The bill did not require a physician’s prescription,” he said, adding no testimony was offered to the committee from medical experts to confirm the scientific case for CBD oil. “While the sponsor of the bill offered a letter of support from the Alabama chapter of the American Academy of [Pediatrics], it was not a record of scientific evidence,” he said.  

As a legal matter, Taylor said the bill really doesn’t even accomplish what its proponents believe it would accomplish. Marijuana and its derivatives are still illegal under federal law, he said, and even if this bill passed, the sale and transport of CBD oil in Alabama would still be illegal under federal and state law. 

Providing someone a defense to one criminal law is meaningless to them if they can be prosecuted under another criminal law involving the same conduct, he said. 

Taylor thinks any bill that leaves so many unanswered questions risks creating a slippery slope that could lead to legalizing marijuana.

“If medical science eventually shows that it really can help children suffering from epilepsy or similar conditions, without opening the door to the legal use of marijuana for its psychoactive effects, then I’m willing to say it’s at least worth considering whether we can adequately regulate its use for that specific purpose. Nobody wants children to suffer unnecessarily,” he said. “But this bill fails by any standard when it comes to having the support of well-documented medical science and adequate regulation for specific uses.”

And for supporters who claim the bill isn’t opening the door to legalizing marijuana, Taylor would tell them to propose a bill that “actually provides for the regulated, prescribed use of CBD for scientifically proven medical purposes.” 

He noted this current bill “simply decriminalizes the possession of CBD oil with a ‘letter’ from a doctor. That is not enough to convince skeptics that it’s anything other than a step toward legalization of marijuana,” he said. 

The idea of the bill becoming a slippery slope to legalizing marijuana was an initial concern for Ball when he first began considering the bill’s political ramifications, he said. However, that changed when he began receiving opposition from the pro-marijuana legalization crowd, he said. 

“It was puzzling until I began getting emails from them opposing Carly’s Law,” Ball noted. “I then realized that if the non-psychoactive CBD oil and its potential medicinal value is made available to those who could benefit without the psychoactive properties, it would have the potential to damage their political movement by taking away much of the medical argument from the marijuana legalization movement. Their movement would continue; however, they would be left arguing for marijuana legalization primarily for recreational purposes. It would probably be a much steeper hill for them to climb in Alabama.”

Ball said his faith is the reason he’s carrying this bill. “Something deep in my heart compelled me to do this,” he said. “I prayed for someone else to do it, but it kept coming back to me. At some point, I came to the conclusion that Carly’s Law is more spiritual than political.”  

He added, “Hope for suffering children and families is the purpose of Carly’s Law. We have families in Alabama that have moved and those who are planning to move in order to administer this oil to their children without fear of prosecution.”

But Taylor thinks ultimately most Alabama lawmakers are still reticent to support something like this. “At least until it is justified by sound medical science,” he added.

“My faith, my belief that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, certainly factors into my personal decision not to use illegal drugs,” Taylor noted. “My decision on this bill is driven by my interest in sound public policy. This bill failed to meet that standard.”

Other medical marijuana-related bills include HB 207, a Carly’s Law-related bill sponsored by Ball, Farley, Todd, Rep. Mike Hill, R-Columbiana, and Rep. Jim Patterson, R-Meridianville. At press time the bill had been read for the first time and referred to the House Judiciary Committee. 

There also is HB 488, sponsored by Todd. According to the bill’s synopsis, it “would establish a medical exemption for the possession and personal use of marijuana only for certain qualifying patients who have been diagnosed by a physician as having a serious medical condition and been issued a valid medical marijuana identification card.” The bill also would provide that the possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana is a civil penalty. The bill was read for the first time and referred to the House Judiciary Committee at press time. 

So far, 20 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that allow the sale of medical marijuana. 

To contact your senator, call 334-242-7800. To contact your representative, call 334-242-7600. 

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