MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — The Alabama legislative session hasn’t started yet, but a bill to legalize medical marijuana is already raising a lot of concerns.
In a memo sent to lawmakers Monday, Attorney General Steve Marshall expressed strong opposition to the bill.
Marshall’s letter came after the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission periodically met during the fall to discuss the potential benefits and side effects of marijuana use. The group was also tasked with drafting legislation on medical marijuana legalization that could come up during the legislative session, which begins Feb. 4.
“As your partner in public service, I would view it as an abdication of my duty to you, and to the public, to stay silent on this matter,” Marshall wrote. “While I do not question the motives or intentions of any member of the Legislature who does support legalization, the many unanswered questions and potential ramifications are undeniable.”
According to Marshall, one of the first issues with legalizing marijuana is how it is in direct conflict with “duly-enacted and clearly-constitution federal law.”
“Thus, state marijuana statutes enacted in violation of federal law are damaging to the rule of law itself—a costly precedent that I urge you to bear in mind,” he wrote.
In the letter, Marshall laid out his case with six key concerns: addiction, treating opioid addiction with marijuana, long-term use, overstating benefits and downplaying risks, ineffective regulation as well as mixing marijuana with prescription drugs.
Regarding addiction, Marshall wrote that marijuana is categorized as a Schedule I drug in the Federal Controlled Substances Act due to its “high potential for abuse,” and that 1 out of 10 users will become addicted to it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“While the scientific community works to find safer alternatives to opioids, we should be loath to embrace or promote another substance that is both psychoactive and addictive,” he wrote.
Marshall also wrote about potentially treating opioid addiction with marijuana, writing that effective treatment is not supported by science. Regarding usage, Marshall, who serves on the Alabama Opioid Overdose and Addiction Council, said long-term use could result in cognitive impairment, development of addiction and other mental-health conditions.
“As with opioids, we do not know what the outlook is for patients who use marijuana for extended periods of time,” he wrote.
Marshall also argued that marijuana legalization was being pushed by groups with money to treat different conditions, the same how Purdue Pharma released Oxycontin in the 1990s as a way to treat pain. Marshall did not name which groups he believed were pushing for marijuana legalization.
“Just as Purdue overstated the benefits of opioids while hiding the lack of evidence supporting their use and omitting or mischaracterizing the adverse effects, a cursory look at the research on marijuana reveals that many proponents appear to overstate its benefits and downplay and ignore its risks,” he wrote.
On the topic of regulation, Marshall wrote that Alabama does not have the means or personnel to regulate or monitor marijuana sales. Specifically, Marshall said there are not enough resources in the state to collect data to help public-health authorities, to assist law enforcement in keeping dangerous substances away from “vulnerable populations” or ensuring that dispensed marijuana is free from contaminants, which he added was a traditional role of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“For a state heavily reliant upon the vast resources of the federal government, the problem of adequate regulation and monitoring is substantially exacerbated when these resources are absent,” he said.
Additionally, Marshall argued that the state’s inability for health care providers to track marijuana prescriptions presented “significant risks.”
“Neither a patient’s primary health care provider nor the patient’s marijuana ‘dispenser’ can hope to safely and responsibly prescribe/dispense without a firm grasp on the patient’s full medical and prescription history–including the prescriber, the dosage and the supply,” he wrote. “This matters doubly because marijuana can change how a patient’s prescription drugs work and can significantly and negatively affect patient outcomes.”
While alluding to the opioid crisis that is taking hold in Alabama and across the country, Marshall concluded his letter by saying his fear was that while the state fought in court for funding to fight opioid addiction in Alabama, bringing in marijuana would only worsen the issue.
“We will work to provide access to recovery programs for those with opioid addiction, while the number of those who need help grows and even expands to those who develop a marijuana addiction,” he wrote. “We will attempt to educate individuals about the long-term effects of opioid use, while endorsing the use of another dangerous drug with negative or, at best, nebulous long-term effects. We will bring in medication by the truckload to treat opioid-use disorder, but it will have no impact at all on those who turn to marijuana instead or who choose to combine the two drugs.”
Marshall is not alone in his opposition. So are a number of law enforcement officers.
“What I can say as a law enforcement officer or public safety, anything that is contributing to impaired driving is certainly a grave concern for law enforcement officers or public safety,” said Clay Hammac of the Shelby Co. Drug Task Force.
Dr. Scott Harris, health officer for Alabama, is also against marijuana legalization, adding he’s concerned it could lead to recreational use.
“This is a drug that is different than other drugs in that a lot of normal healthy people really want to access this drug, that is not true with your blood pressure and heart pills,” Harris said on a recent episode of “Capitol Journal” on Alabama Public Television.
Montgomery resident Karen Jones is someone who believes she would benefit from medical marijuana due to pain she experiences from various illnesses.
“The medicines that I currently take and individuals that I know, it puts us to sleep and makes us gain weight,” Jones said.
She said those medication also have other concerning side effects, which is why she supports legalizing medical marijuana.
“I think medical marijuana the natural form would be a benefit,” she said.
To date, 33 states have legalized marijuana for medical use.
Bill sponsor Sen. Tim Melson said that despite Marshall’s opposition, he plans to bring the bill to the legislature when they convene in February and will work with anyone who wants to help with it.
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