May 14, 2013

Alabama Safe Access Update: The Legislative Session In Review

May 14, 2013
Alabama Safe Access Project

Alabama Safe Access ProjectThis session, Alabama took giant leaps on the issue of marijuana reform. Although none of our legislation passed into law, we have set the stage for the future.

In November, the Alabama House Representatives Committee on Health held a pre-session public hearing on what was supposed to be on “the issue of medical marijuana,” not on any specific legislation. This was nothing more than an attempt by Chairman Jim McClendon, (R) St. Clair Springs, to kill the bill. At the end of the hearing, Chairman McClendon said, “There would have to be a sea of change before this issue received a vote in the committee.”

The majority of the supporters of the legislation saw this dog and pony show as an insult to their intelligence, and the people of Alabama stood up.

In February, after thousands of emails and hundreds of phone calls HB-2, the Alabama Medical Marijuana Patients’ Rights Act received an official hearing in the health committee. Chairman McClendon required a “sea of change” for this issue to receive a hearing, but the people of Alabama showed him that the change he required had already occurred.

Unfortunately, Speaker Mike Hubbard, (R) Auburn, and Chairman McClendon resorted to the Machiavellian tactics of twisting the arms and standing on the necks of committee members. Since the hearing through private conversations, two committee members told me that the Republican leadership “warned” party members about voting for the legislation, and the bill failed by a vote of 12 to 2.

After the hearing, Representative Patricia Todd, (D) Birmingham, and I sat in her office and debated our options for the rest of the session. After all, the hearing on HB-2 happened on the second day of the legislative session. The leadership thought that we would simply go away after our legislation died an ugly death in committee.

Instead, Representative Todd and I decided on the “by any means necessary” approach to protecting the patients of Alabama and we decided on five ideas for new legislation.

The Alabama Medical Marijuana Physician Protection Act: To protect physicians who choose to inform patients that the use of marijuana may benefit their medical condition.

The Alabama Medical Marijuana Affirmative Defense Act: This bill establishes medical necessity as an affirmative defense in a prosecution for the use and possession of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia.

The Alabama Medical Exemption Act: This bill establishes a medical exemption to Alabama’s current laws for personal use and possession of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia for patients under the direction of physician.

The Alabama Marijuana Decriminalization Act: the purpose of this act is to remove the criminal penalties for the possession of up to one (1) ounce of Marijuana.

The Alabama Cannabis and Hemp Reform Act of 2013: In the interest of the efficient use of law enforcement resources, enhancing revenue for public purposes, and individual freedom, the people of the state of Alabama find and declare that the use of marijuana should be legal for persons twenty-one years of age or older and taxed in a manner similar to alcohol.

Three of these bills did not make it out of Legislative Reference Service, but HB-315, the Alabama Medical Exemption Act, and HB-550, the Alabama Cannabis and Hemp Reform Act, were filed in the Alabama House of Representatives.

HB-315, the Alabama Medical Exemption Act, was assigned to the House Committee on Health where it was then assigned to the Healthcare Professionals and Procedures sub-committee. There it was scheduled for a hearing, which was postponed on several occasions before the committee decided to send a survey to members of the Medical Association of Alabama to see if the issue had the support of physicians.

We have still not received the results of that survey. We have been told that the medical association is still tabulating the results. This was a ploy to push the legislation down the road and allow it to die due to lack of time left in the session.

The good news is that we have not heard the results of the physician surveys, the will have to be released soon due to Alabama law. This is good news because my experience with Chairman McClendon and Speaker Hubbard tells me that the survey went in favor of the patients of Alabama. If it had not, I believe they would be rubbing it in our face by now.

HB-550, the Alabama Cannabis and Hemp Reform Act, was a pleasant surprise. It was assigned to the Alabama House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. While the bill was tabled in committee, it was the first time since 2010 that marijuana legislation received a fair hearing in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Once again, I would like to thank Chairman Micky Hammon for giving our bill a chance. Make no mistake, I do not think that the chairman is a closet supporter, but I do think that he is the first in the Republican leadership to see that they are standing against the winds of change. Regardless of his reasoning, the chairman acted honorably and I told him that last week.

The big surprise to come from the hearing on HB-550 was Vice-Chair Allen Farley. Until this hearing, he had not been on a committee that we had legislation assigned to. I had talked to him in the past and listed him as a hard no, but things are changing and there has been no greater indicator of that change than Allen Farley.

During the hearing, Alan Farley, (R) McCalla, said that he had spoken to friends who were retired law enforcement, and those friends had reconsidered their opinion on marijuana. This was due to the medical benefits, the fact that they were getting older and it was more of a consideration for them, and the loss of a family member that it could have helped.

Representative Farley had a 36-year-career in law enforcement, the last seven of which he served as Assistant Jefferson County Sheriff. He was the number two guy in the department (Jefferson County is the largest county in Alabama).

Since the hearing, I have spoken to Representative Farley and I am pleased to say that he is “all-in” when it comes to our medical legislation.

Representative Todd and I are discussing our legislative package for the 2014 session. While all of the legislation will undergo some minor changes, we know that Representative Todd will be filing or re-filing all of the legislation mentioned in this post. We will also be looking at other options for legislation during the “off-season.”

Finally, Representative Patricia Todd and Alabama Safe Access Project would like to thank the people of Alabama. It is your support that makes our efforts possible, you are the reason we fight, and you are the reason that we will continue to fight.

Change is coming to Alabama….Stay tuned!


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