Reflections on Alabama Medical Marijuana Hearing

CANNABIS CULTURE - Yesterday's YES vote on HB642 by the Alabama House Judiciary Committee was historic. It was the first time a medical marijuana bill has passed the first hurdle toward becoming law in the state of Alabama.

What makes it even more historic and astounding is that this is an election year in Alabama. The entire House and Senate are up for re-election. To even take this bill up, much less pass it, shows that attitudes are changing in Alabama. We are also the only Southern state to have a medical marijuana bill in committee right now and hopefully we will be the first Southern state to have a medical marijuana law. Imagine that...Alabama first at something ... well ... progressive and compassionate and right!

For the last six years Alabamians for Compassionate Care has partnered with the Drug Policy Alliance and together have worked our collective butts off to make yesterday happen. I am so proud of the wonderful people who make up the ranks of Alabamians for Compassionate Care and the Drug Policy Alliance. Without their fearless and tireless dedication none of this would have been possible.

We are also grateful beyond words for the incredible support and dedication of our bill sponsor Rep. Patricia Todd (54th Dist. D-Birmingham)> She truly believes in medical marijuana and we could not ask for a better champion for our cause. If you support medical marijuana in Alabama than I'd like to suggest you take out your checkbook right now and mail her a campaign contribution. Be sure to make send a note thanking her for her work on medical marijuana so that she knows how much she is appreciated. Checks can be mailed to:

Re-Elect Patricia Todd Campaign
1320 58th Street South
Birmingham, AL 35222

Now, on to the juicy stuff.

While we expected HB642 to pass out of the Judiciary Committee yesterday most, if not all, of us were completely unprepared for some of the amazingly wonderful and astonishing moments that happened. The usual BS that the opposition routinely spouts off we were expecting.

Let's start with the usual BS. One Representative in particular is deserving of my wrath. That is Rep. Yusuf Salaam (D- Selma). I can't be too ugly in my criticism of his actions yesterday. About the only good thing I can say about him is that he didn't kill our bill and actually got up and left the committee meeting before the vote. That almost makes up for his deliberate ignorance and attempted down-dressing of Rep. Todd.

Video of the hearing

Rep. Salaam started out by telling Rep. Todd that he was disappointed in her and thought she had better things to do than introduce such legislation as this. I don't know how she kept from telling him that what she introduced was her business since he was neither her constituent nor her mentor. But she did and I admire her for that.

As to Rep. Salaam's outrageous, yet strangely predictable assertion that there is no evidence to support medical marijuana I offer the following rebuttal.

Last week I and two other members of ACC went down to Montgomery and tried to visit with every member of the committee and give them an information packet that contained the latest study from the University of California SF using confiscated marijuana, which showed that marijuana is good for 15 (I think) serious medical conditions. The packet also included NORML's clinical applications booklet, a recent article from the NYT about how the Federal govt blocks research, an article from Dr. Lester Grinspoon and something else I can't recall right this second.

For most of the committee members we had to leave a packet in their office as they were either in meetings or on the floor. Rep. Salaam was one of the few legislators we managed to meet face to face with for a brief second. I personally placed the information packet in his hand and told him that it contained scientific studies about medical marijuana and asked him to please read it before the upcoming vote on HB642.

I've also given him studies and other good information about medical marijuana for the past 6 years.

Him sitting there and running his willfully ignorant mouth about there not being any scientific evidence to support medical marijuana nearly made my head explode.

He is a former prosecutor and police officer. Yesterday he said he is an expert in Constitutional law. I nearly bit my damn tongue off trying to keep from screaming out, "Where in the Constitution does it outlaw the use of any drug beside the 18th Amendment outlawing alcohol for a brief time?"

But, you can't do those kinds of things in a committee meeting. I admire Rep. Todd even more for keeping her cool and not tearing into him. I'm not entirely sure I would have been able to do so myself. Perhaps that is why she is a legislator and I am not, no?

Salaam continued on with his nonsense for quote some time. At one point he called our bill and the hearing a 'game of legislative pit pat" whatever the hell that means. One of the more surprising moments came when Rep. Spencer Collier (R- Mobile), who is also a former policeman and longtime opponent of our bill, admonished Salaam for that remark. While Rep. Collier does not support our bill and made some amendments to it yesterday that I did not care for at all, I appreciated his backhanding of Rep. Salaam. I also appreciate that he finally engaged us in a debate on this bill for the first time instead of just voting against it without much in the way of commentary. He even admitted that alcohol and its effects on people (especially on the highway) are much more dangerous than marijuana. It's difficult to know how to reach a legislator when they won't really say why they are opposed to something. I was able to speak to Rep. Collier after the hearing was over and he agree to work with us between now and next session to find common ground. That's progress folks.

However, the most fascinating and jaw dropping moment came when Rep. John Robinson (D- Scottsboro) told the committee that in the rural area where he is from it has for years been common practice for someone suffering from cancer or other serious medical conditions to go with their physician to the local sheriff and obtain marijuana from the evidence room. Here's the real shocker though...Rep. John Robinson also has a background in law enforcement, as he pointed out in the video. He said he understands the need to control marijuana and prevent people from abusing the system but the he supports this legislation and believes that it helps people and that the state has an obligation to pass HB642 and protect patients. After he finished we all broke out in loud applause and a whole lot of AMENS!

Once again I want to ask medical marijuana supporters in Alabama to take out their checkbooks and send Rep. Robinson a campaign contribution and a note thanking him for his compassion, common sense and vote on this issue. The mailing address is:

Re-Elect John Robinson
100 East Peachtree St.
Scottsboro, AL. 35768

Another member of the committee who is deserving of our thanks and a campaign contribution is Rep. Cam Ward (R- Shelby). Rep. Ward has always voted yes to pass this legislation out of committee and this session he went even further. In the past he has always told me that he isn't sure how he will vote on this legislation when it finally reaches the house floor for a full debate, but that he firmly believes that we deserve our day in the house to debate this issue. This year he did two things. First, he kept fellow Republicans on the committee from killing the bill. Second, and most importantly, he urged and apparently succeeded in keeping the entire Republican caucus from taking a public stand against our bill. I cannot thank him enough for that. Rep. Ward is what I consider to be a very good Republican and if I lived in his district I'd campaign my rear end off for him. Since I don't I will be sending him some money instead. Republicans like Cam are hard to come by and we should support them wherever we find them. After the upcoming election Rep. Cam Ward will be Senator Cam Ward. Please mail your campaign contribution and a note of thanks for his help on HB642 to:

Committee to Elect Cam Ward
P.O. Box 1749
Alabaster, Al. 35007

Another Rep. I want to encourage everyone to support is Rep. Chris England (D- Tuscaloosa). Rep. England did propose a tax on medical marijuana, which I am opposed to, but he also said some very good things and he voted yes to pass the bill out of committee. Rep. England is a former prosecutor and has introduced some excellent legislation in his first four years as a legislator. Most notably he introduced HB214, a bill that would allow those convicted of non-violent drug offenses to be eligible for food assistance and TANF once they have completed their sentence and HB59 a bill that would allow those charged with a crime but never convicted to have their arrest and court records, fingerprints and other things related to arrest/charge expunged.

Last but not least I want to thank Rep. Laura Hall (D- Madison) for her continued support of this bill. Rep. Hall was our original sponsor for the first four years we pushed this bill in Alabama. She continued to be very supportive yesterday. Although she and I have not always seen eye to eye I want her to know that I appreciate her work for this cause.

Oh, thanks are also in order to Vice Chair of the committee Rep. Charles Newton (D- Butler, Conecuh and Crenshaw). At the end of the hearing yesterday he said that there is an unwritten rule they normally follow in committee when the Chair Rep. Marcel Black is not present (he wasn't yesterday). Rep. Newton said when a bill has opposition and has been amended they usually won't vote on it without the Chair present. However, he left the decision on whether to vote or not up to Rep. Todd. He didn't have to do that. we are grateful that he did.

The legislators who voiced opposition yesterday are the ones that we really need to reach out to and build good relationships with. I believe everyone, with the exception of Rep. Salaam, can be brought around on this issue. Those legislators are Rep. Spencer Collier, Rep. Paul DeMarco, Rep. Jamie Ison and Rep. Steve McMillan.

Once again my deepest thanks to all of the wonderful people who have worked so hard to make what happened yesterday a reality. We still have a long way to go, but getting this out of committee was an incredible hurdle that we have worked six years to overcome. I cannot thank everyone enough.

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