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Patients urge passage of stalled medical marijuana bill

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — John Butts, a retired teacher and coach, became a quadriplegic after a 2015 spinal cord injury. He told Alabama lawmakers that nothing gave him relief from the daily spasms and burning pain in his legs and back until he tried cannabis and marijuana treatments.

“I’m in pain every day,” Butts told a legislative committee on Tuesday. “It helped my symptoms.”

People dealing with chronic health conditions and their loved ones on Tuesday urged a legislative committee to approve a medical marijuana bill that has stalled in the House of Representatives.

The House Health Committee held a public hearing on the Senate-passed bill that would allow patients with certain medical conditions to purchase medical marijuana with a doctor’s approval. Facing House opposition, the proposal is expected to be changed to create a study commission that would recommend legislation for the 2020 session.

Tyler Jones, a veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, said his company has lost more people to suicides than from their deployment to Iraq. Jones said antidepressants and other drugs left him with suicidal feelings. During a trip out West, he tried medical marijuana and was amazed at how it helped him.

Butts said he refuses to try prescription opioids after seeing the addiction and damage they can bring. But to obtain marijuana, he said he must deal with people living outside the law.

“You have to deal with outlaws. It’s not a good situation for someone in a wheelchair,” Butts said.

Opponents said they sympathized with people living with chronic conditions but urged lawmakers to proceed with caution. They said that the benefits and dangers of medical marijuana needed additional study or that it could lead to recreational use.

“This has been a stepping stone to decriminalization and legalization,” said Becky Gerritson, executive director of the Eagle Forum of Alabama.

Barry Matson, executive director of the Office of Prosecution Services, said there are not roadside sobriety test for people driving under the influence of marijuana and other drugs.

The Alabama Senate approved the bill on a 17-6 vote, but the measure has stalled in the House.

Because of House opposition, Republican Sen. Tim Melson said his bill would likely be changed to create a study commission that would recommend legislation for the 2020 session.

“Thirty-three states have this. It’s time to look into Alabama having it,” said Melson, a Republican from Florence.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says more than 30 states have approved some form of a medical marijuana program.

The committee is expected to vote Wednesday.

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