With a medical marijuana bill poised to pass the Alabama House, district attorneys from across the state, including in Mobile and Baldwin counties, sent a letter to lawmakers opposing the legislation.
The letter, signed by 23 district attorneys — including Mobile County’s Ashley Rich and Baldwin County’s Bob Wilters — was sent to lawmakers after the bill passed the full Senate and two different House committees and could be on its way to a full House vote.
The two-page correspondence labels marijuana a “gateway drug” and says calling it “harmless” is “the biggest lie” being fed to the Alabama public.
“Please don’t further the lie by voting for any form of legalization beyond the pharmaceutical remedies already available under state law,” the letter states.
The letter also cites generalized “study after study” that allegedly show everything of medicinal value in marijuana can be extracted from the cannabis plant. The letter also mentions scientific evidence that shows ingesting high levels of THC is harmful.
This specific complaint has been brought up a number of times during the committee process and Sen. Tim Melson, R-Sheffield, has said the bill would allow for only small doses of THC. The bill also does not allow patients to smoke cannabis, but would permit them to obtain flavorless gelatin cubes or pills.
The letter also proclaims legalization for medical purposes would open the door for legal recreational use in the future.
Chey Garrigan, executive director of the Alabama Cannabis Industry Association, called the letter “weak” and said the authors of it are speaking out against the will of the people of Alabama.
“If they’re still using ‘gateway’ and other caveman-type wording, they might as well have chiseled on a stone wall,” Garrigan said. “They’re just trying to derail the bill.”
Without citing a specific source, Garrigan said the legalization of medical marijuana was favored by about 90 percent of the state’s population. She compared it to neighboring Mississippi, which passed a medical marijuana referendum with 73 percent support.
Alabama’s Republican Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth has come out in favor of limited legal use of medical marijuana. In a May 1 tweet, Ainsworth wrote he supports medical cannabis for pain relief for those with “cancer and other serious medical conditions.”
“The majority of the medical community agrees,” he wrote. “The Alabama House should pass this important bill before the session ends.”
Garrigan questioned the timing of the letter, as the clock continues to tick down on the current legislative session. At this point, the bill would need to pass the House — a vote Garrigan said could take place Thursday, May 6 — and the House version of the legislation would need to be merged with the Senate version before being sent to Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk.
“The fact they’ve come out and put their names on something like this is pretty amazing,” Garrigan said. “Every one of these district attorneys is aware of an underground market in their area and the only reason they oppose this is because they benefit from [the underground market].”
Lagniappe reached out to Rich and Wilters for comment, but neither had responded as of press time.
Without a law in place, Garrigan said, Alabama will be at the mercy of the federal government and its regulations once a nationwide medical marijuana law is passed.
“It would be a shame for Alabama to give up their seat at the table,” she said.
Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, who shepherded the bill in the House, still feels confident it will pass before the State Legislature session ends later this month.
“There is a significant majority who support this bill,” he said. “There is a small number of very powerful people who would do anything to undermine this.”
Ball said he’s aware of a push to filibuster the legislation, but he still believes it’ll become law.
“If the process works the way it should, it’ll pass,” he said. “There’s always someone trying to undermine the system.”
A former law enforcement official, Ball said he knows from experience how hard it is to change preconceived notions about marijuana.
“I understand their perspective and how they got there,” he said. “They’re lawyers. They are used to advocating for their side. They’re only seeing one side of it. It’s sad that I have to be on the opposite side of this from them. I hope they will open their hearts and minds.”
For Ball, the fact remains patients in Alabama need medical marijuana and when they can’t get it they may resort to ingesting more harmful medicines.
“This is about helping people,” he said. “I’m an advocate for helping people.”
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