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Alabama medical marijuana commission holds first meeting

The new Alabama medical marijuana commission held its first meeting last week and Covington County Children’s Policy Council Coalition director Susan Short said she is fearful of the opioid crisis worsening if marijuana is legalized.

“I have looked at the rates in these other states where marijuana has been legalized,” Short said. “Their opioid rates are still rising. Their numbers of prescriptions are going down, but the usage is still rising. When you normalize a drug, that’s what happens. People, and especially a lot of families, think that if it is legal, then it is safe. I am fearful for that aspect of it for Alabama.”

Last Tuesday’s meeting of the commission was mainly done for organizational purposes. The commission elected Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence chairman and Dr. Steven Stokes, an oncologist from Dothan, vice-chair. Both are supporters of medical marijuana.

Most of the discussion focused on safeguards and regulations in Melson’s original medical marijuana legislation, a bill that will likely serve as a starting point for any legislation the commission recommends.

Melson’s bill also provided a patient registry of marijuana users; a commission to oversee cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana and allowed employers to forbid medical marijuana use on their property. Other topics discussed included how the law might allow the ingestion of medical marijuana.

Short said people have to look and see how they got where they are with the opioid crisis.

“This has been a hot topic for a while,” Short said. “We got where we are today because we did not have a clear science of it. Back in the Civil War ages, they were prescribing heroin, which was being produced by the Bayer Company. That was when they first discovered that they were highly addictive. They just didn’t know it at that time. The entire reason that the Federal Drug Administration was formed was to protect the public from poor science.”

According to a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1980 entitled, “Addiction Rare in Patients Treated with Narcotics,” narcotics were a safe treatment for chronic pain.

Short said from that one article, doctors began prescribing more opioids.

“Slowly but surely, the rates began to rise,” Short said. “Without clear science and evidence about the changes we make, as far as drugs are concerned, we don’t want to make the same mistake again. It is exactly how we got to where we are.”

The commission must hold at least three public meetings and submit a report and proposed legislation by Dec. 1. The legislature’s 2020 session begins in February.