MONTGOMERY, Alabama — A Senate committee on Wednesday narrowly approved a bill to allow medicinal marijuana in Alabama— a sweet victory for advocates of pot as medicine but one that could be short-lived.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-3 vote to approve the bill. It now moves to the Alabama Senate.
"All we're trying to do is give these people who have ailments, who suffer from chronic pain, the opportunity to have a treatment that is natural, that is not synthetic," bill sponsor Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said.
The legislation would allow patients with certain medical conditions, including cancer, anorexia and AIDS, to buy or grow a small amount of marijuana each month. "This is not about a smoke-fest. This is about trying to help people. I'm not trying to be the next Colorado," Singleton said, referencing one of the states that has legalized marijuana for recreational use.
An opposed lawmaker predicted the bill's chance of winning final approval was between "slim and none." Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, said he will try to block the legislation on the Senate floor.
"I spent a lot of years working with addicts. I see marijuana as a gateway drug," Williams said.
Singleton said he will likely have to change the bill to a proposed constitutional amendment — which would let voters decide the issue — to have a chance at getting a floor vote in the Senate.
"This is not a vote that can be pinned as being for marijuana," Singleton said.
After the vote applause broke out from medicinal marijuana advocates who have unsuccessfully lobbied at the Statehouse for years.
Wearing a green ribbon to symbolize medicinal marijuana, Tammy Collazo said she uses a small amount of marijuana to ease the pain from a brain tumor.
"I'm so happy. It helps me," Collazo said.
At a rally outside the Statehouse, advocates urged for lawmakers to approve the bill.
"God put that plant here," said Joe Whittington of Montgomery. "All they want to do is stick these heavy duty drugs down you. Why not a natural plant that has never killed anybody?"
Opponents of the bill said not enough is known about the effects of marijuana and that people risked harm by taking the drug as medicine.
Dr. Shannon Murphy, a pediatrician from Homewood, said multiple medical organizations have said there needs to be additional research first to determine the side effects, dosing and the ethics of prescribing marijuana.
"There is not one medication that doctors dose by smoking," Murphy said. Murphy is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Practice Advisory Committee on Adolescent Substance Abuse and Smart Approaches to Marijuana Approaches Alabama.
"If there is a compound out there that may help my patients, I want to deliver it in a safe well-studied way. I want to first do no harm," Murphy said.
The Judiciary Committee approved the bill on a 4-3 party line vote. Four Democrats voted for the measure and three Republicans against it and one Republican abstained. In an unusual situation, Democrats were in a position to control what came out of the committee in the Senate where the GOP holds a lopsided majority.
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