Medical marijuana bill headed for full vote of SenatePosted by On

The sponsor of a medical marijuana bill that recently cleared a committee in the Alabama State Senate is in a unique position to study how cannabis-based medicine can help Alabama patients.

“I’m an anesthesiologist that does research for drug companies,” Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, said. “It probably makes me a little bit more credible in that people think at least I know the process and how the drugs can interact and work and things like that.”

Chey Garrigan, a lobbyist for two cannabis trade associations in the state, said it’s that research background that helped win the favorable vote in committee.

“Bringing something like this to fruition the way he has — he is the least likely person to do it, but yet he is the most likely person to do it,” Garrigan said. “It took about a year before anybody could convince him of this once he realized the research.”

Melson’s bill cleared the 11-person Senate Judiciary Committee by an 8-1 vote, with one member abstaining. The lone dissenting vote came from another physician, Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Sheffield, an obstetrician. The bill is expected to come before the whole Senate as early as March 5.

Besides studying the physical benefits medical marijuana can offer certain patients, Melson’s research shows the drug has had societal effects in states where its use is legal. Thirty-three states have already legalized some form of medical marijuana.

“From what I’ve seen, opioid prescriptions go down about 5 percent in Medicaid patients in states that have medical cannabis,” Melson said. “We sure have an opioid problem in Alabama, so I’m hoping it will help in some ways. Workman comp claims have gone down about 7-plus percent in states that have medical cannabis.”

Even job sites have become safer in those states, he said.

“The government does a workforce fatality expectation study and they expect so many based on the industry, so many deaths on those job sites. In states that have medical cannabis, they’ve dropped 20 percent,” he said.

Through conversations with his colleagues, Melson believes his bill will clear the Senate and be passed to the Alabama House of Representatives.

“I took a vote count and we had the votes,” Melson said. “I don’t think anybody will flip, at least not enough to matter. Some may change their mind. When they go home, they get cold feet if their [district attorney] says this is a terrible thing. I have several DAs that tell me they think it’s a great thing.”

He’s not sure how it will be received in the House, but he’s hoping it gets a fair hearing there as well.

“Hopefully, we’ll get it in the House as well and they’ll do their due diligence and get a vote on it,” Melson said. “If the people will just let their bias go away for a while and just look at the facts, I believe that it shows that it’s worth it.”

The bill would allow Alabama farmers to grow it and eight processors to make the drugs, six of which would be in Alabama. There would also be 34 dispensaries of medical marijuana in Alabama, according to the bill.

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