Mona Sweatt brought her daughter Hallie before the Alabama Medical Marijuana Study Commission and pleaded her case.
Hallie suffered a traumatic brain injury when she was 13 and suffers seizures and chronic pain. Mona Sweatt, who lives in Montgomery, told those present at the meeting on Thursday that traditional medications were not working for her.
“I believe that it should be our right as residents of this great state to have something as an alternative to perhaps help her stop her seizures,” she said.
Whether the Sweatts get the opportunity to do that will depend on what comes out of the commission, which has a deadline to propose a bill and file a report by Dec. 1. Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, the chair of the commission who championed a medical marijuana bill last spring, handed out copies of a proposed draft commission members discussed toward the end of the meeting on Thursday.
“It’s a little tighter,” he said. “It’s 70-something pages. It’s got a lot we’ve got to work on, but it’s getting close.”
Melson asked commission members to submit their input and changes before the deadline. Whether the bill passes depends on the Alabama Legislature, which reconvenes in February.
Melson managed to get a medical marijuana bill through the Alabama Senate last May, which would have allowed the use of medical marijuana for a dozen different conditions if traditional treatments failed to make progress. But House members, getting cold feet, voted to change the legislation into a study commission.
Thursday’s meeting was the last before the deadline, and the panel heard from skeptics of medical marijuana. Bertha Madras, a neuroscientist at Harvard University and a critic of medical marijuana initiatives, told the panel that there was no evidence from clinical studies that marijuana was effective as a treatment.
“The biggest problem we have in deciphering the therapeutic efficacy of marijuana is (that) the effective dose and the dose that produces euphoria overlap significantly,” she said. “For most other drugs, the effects are quite separate.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Dr. Alan Shackelford, a Colorado physician and medical marijuana advocate, described patients he had seen who managed to get degenerative conditions under control by taking medical cannabis, and pointed to one child who went from having “300 seizures a week to one or two a month” after beginning treatment. The University of Alabama Birmingham is studying the effect of CBD on controlling seizures.
Shackelford also suggested that there “was a bias against doing studies” that showed the positive benefits of cannabis in the United States. He said he approached medical cannabis with “great skepticism” when his patients began requesting it.
“I went to the medical literature, I researched this, and I began to authorize it for a few people, reluctantly and with trepidation, and I was incredibly relieved to find it was helpful for these people,” he said.
The commission also heard from Barry Matson, the director of the Alabama District Attorneys Association, who expressed concerned that loose language in the bill could potentially broaden the availability of marijuana, creating a recreational drug.
But most of those who gathered for the meeting just wanted relief for themselves or their loved ones. Tim Morris, who spoke at a meeting of the commission last month, attended Thursday’s meeting in a wheelchair due to recurring pain he tries to keep under control with marijuana. Morris said he was willing to risk arrest to keep his pain under control.
“Am I supposed to go home and scream in pain?” he asked.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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