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Medical marijuana bill headed to Senate vote

The Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee approved medical marijuana legislation Wednesday, clearing the way for the bill to go before the whole Alabama Senate for a vote – among those on the committee that voted in favor of the bill was Alabama Sen. Malika Sanders-Fortier, D-Selma.

“It was a very interesting meeting,” Sanders-Fortier said. “It wasn’t just a committee meeting, we also had a hearing on medical marijuana. People still had some questions, but what was most moving to me was the parents and those folks that came before the committee that had children in just extreme pain.”

The hearing featured supporters of the bill, mostly families with sick children for whom medical cannabis could offer badly-needed relief, as well as opponents.

Sanders-Fortier believes the bill, known as the Compassion Act, is aptly named.

“I think that’s exactly what this act is,” Sanders-Fortier said. “We have our real values and then there are our attitudes or judgments we have that sometimes mask themselves as values – I think when it comes to medical marijuana, that’s just what’s happening.”

The bill would allow doctors to prescribe non-smokable marijuana, which will be distributed in various forms including pills, creams, patches and more, for roughly 25 conditions, such as chronic pain, cancer, anxiety and others.

For her part, Sanders-Fortier believes marijuana is just as effective as many pharmaceutical drugs being prescribed these days and quantifiably less habit forming and harmful.

Many opponents of the law have asserted that it will open the door to recreational pot use, which Sanders-Fortier sees as an implausible argument.

“[The bill] does not allow for marijuana to be smoked, it has to be in a certain form, a person can only get it if they’ve gone to a doctor to verify they have one of these medical issues – I just don’t see it exacerbating those concerns in any way,” Sanders-Fortier said. “It’s much easier for people to get illegal marijuana on the streets than it is for people to get this legal marijuana.”

What really stuck out to Sanders-Fortier during the hearing was tales of families becoming “medical refugees,” forced to flee their homes in order to access the medication they need.

“I heard person after person  that, if they went to another state, they were able to use some kind of medical cannabis patch and have their pain dealt with,” Sanders-Fortier said. “Then, when they came back to Alabama, they couldn’t use it anymore. They don’t want to become medical refugees, where they have to move out of Alabama for their pain and their health.”

Sanders-Fortier also shrugged off the notion that patients prescribed medical marijuana products would turn around and sell them on the streets.

“It seems to me even that would be harder than whatever people do to get marijuana all the time,” Sanders-Fortier said. “This bill doesn’t make anything easier, it just creates a path to get something prescribed for a doctor that you need for your health.”

Sanders-Fortier plans to vote in support of the measure once it appears before the full Senate – if it clears the Senate, it will work its way back through House committees before landing on the House floor.

But, once it does, Alabama Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Selma, plans to add his voice to the chorus of supporters for the measure.

“I am in support of medical marijuana because of the relief that can be brought to people with serious pain and suffering,” Chestnut said. “As we become more knowledgeable of the benefits of medical marijuana, we should take our cues from credible medical and naturopathic studies.”