A 15-person panel in Alabama convened for the first time Tuesday to consider whether medical marijuana is right for the state.
The panel, known as the Medical Cannabis Study Commission, was born out of a bill to legalize medical cannabis that was introduced in the Alabama state legislature earlier this year. As lawmakers called for more information, the legislation was shifted from a proposal to legalize medical marijuana to instead appoint a commission to study the issue.
Nearly three months later, the commission met Monday at the state capital of Montgomery, listening to presentations on medical marijuana policies in other states, as well as appeals from advocates.
The commission heard from Cynthia Atkinson, the widow of a local meteorologist, Dan Atkinson, who died from Parkinson’s in 2017.
“He had Parkinson’s for over 10 years,” Cynthia said, as quoted by AL.com. “At times his legs, most of the time for the last three years, his legs would feel like he was in vice grips.”
The website noted that Atkinson and her late husband traveled to Colorado in 2015 to seek treatment, and that he found relief from patches containing THC.
But unlike Colorado, which became one of the first two states to legalize pot for recreational use in 2012, such products remain very much illegal in Alabama. As such, Atkinson said her husband relied on opioids toward the end of his life.
“He fought the good fight,” she said. “But I do believe that there would have been a lot less side effects as a result of trying something that’s much more natural. It’s a plant, it’s not a synthetic chemical.”
The chairman of the commission is Republican state Sen. Tim Melson, who sponsored the bill to legalize medical cannabis earlier this year.
Melson’s original legislation would have given the go-ahead for doctors in Alabama to recommend medical marijuana for patients suffering from roughly a dozen conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Medical marijuana is legal in more than 30 states across the U.S., but implementation has lagged in many places over concerns that pot remains illegal on the federal level. Under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is labeled as a “Schedule 1” drug, the same category as heroin.
Melson said in May that he understood the misgivings of some of his colleagues.
“It’s a big step,” Melson said at the time. “And everybody is stepping out of their comfort zone. You’re asking for a Schedule 1 drug to be given to patients. And it’s the same drug that’s been enjoyed and abused by people throughout the years, centuries and centuries.”
Under the revised bill, the Medical Cannabis Study Commission will hold at least three public hearings like one conducted Tuesday before reporting its findings to the legislature in December.