Pubdate: Fri, 01 Apr 2005
Source: Huntsville Times (AL)
Copyright: 2005 The Huntsville Times
Author: Taylor Bright, Times Montgomery Bureau
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Huntsville Legislator Believes Her Measure Has A Chance To Pass

MONTGOMERY -- People think of marijuana smokers as sitting in dimly
lit places, playing video games or watching cartoons all night with a
bag of Cheetos nestled in-between their legs.

For Laura Campbell, there is no fun in smoking the drug. The mother of
three, in chronic pain, says she needs it to make life bearable.

Campbell came to Montgomery on Thursday to see Rep. Laura Hall,
D-Huntsville, introduce a bill that would allow for medical use of

At least one common belief - that smoking marijuana makes people
hungry - is true, Campbell said, and that's part of the reason she
wants to make it legal in Alabama to smoke marijuana for medical reasons.

She often has bouts of nausea and diarrhea.The marijuana helps to stop
the vomiting and the frequent trips to the bathroom. Most of her
problems, and there are many, stem from arthritis in her spine.

"There's never a time I don't have pain," said Campbell, a 32-year-old
from Cullman with short red hair.

She is allergic to many traditional pain killers like Demerol and
morphine. The legal, pharmaceutical version of marijuana, Marinol,
makes her violently nauseous. So her husband goes out and buys
Campbell's medicine from drug dealers.

She knows what she is doing is a crime. But, she says, it's the only
way to deal with her pain.

"I'm asking for a tolerable existence," said Campbell, who said the
drug provides no high for her, just pain relief.

Though she is raising three children, she said she never smokes
marijuana in front of them and if she has to, she has neighbors take
care of them while she smokes.

And she's scared she could be arrested for possessing

"Otherwise I wouldn't be here to fix it," Campbell

Under Alabama law, possession of less than two pounds of marijuana is
a misdemeanor that carries a sentence of up to a year in prison and up
to a $2,000 fine.

For people using the drug for medical reasons, that would change.
Under Hall's bill, people who need to use marijuana for medical
reasons would register with the Alabama Department of Public Health
and be allowed to keep small amounts of the drug without penalty. The
bill would not decriminalize marijuana possession, Hall said.

Hall said she sponsored the bill in part from seeing her son, Ato, die
of AIDS in 1992. Hall said that he couldn't take AZT, which doctors
prescribed for him.

"As a mother, if there had been an opportunity to have a prescribed
medication of marijuana I certainly would have felt good about being
able have him take that because there was no other medication for
him," Hall said.

Eleven states, primarily in the West, have medical marijuana laws:
Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Montana,
Vermont and Washington. Arizona allows marijuana prescriptions, but
doesn't have an active program.

The battle could be long for Hall and Campbell. Already, Attorney
General Troy King is opposing the bill that would allow for some
people to legally posses marijuana.

"It is currently against Alabama law, and it is Attorney General
King's personal opinion is that it remain so," said Chris Bence,
spokesman for the attorney general's office.

Bence said that although King had filed a friend of the court brief
siding with California's medical marijuana laws in federal court, he
was defending state's rights, not the medical marijuana law.

"His personal opinion is that it's not very good public policy," Bence

A spokesman for the Medical Association of the State of Alabama said
Thursday it hadn't had time to completely review Hall's bill.

"It appears to be a very thought-out bill," said Dickey Whitaker, who
lobbies for the association.

In Montgomery Thursday, Campbell appeared with Hall and Stephen
Gordon, vice-chair of the Libertarian Party of Alabama, who is
lobbying to pass Hall's bill, to speak for the bill.

Campbell's husband, who asked not to be further identified, said he
has to go out and buy drugs on the street for his wife. The dealers,
who know his wife's condition, give him a rate below recreational
users' price and sometimes for free.

"It's pretty bad when a drug dealer is more compassionate than the
government," Gordon said.

The bill, just introduced, has a long journey and the legislative
session has just crossed the halfway point. Hall thinks the bill can

"If people read the bill and go and see what it's for, I think it
would be reasonable to suspect that it would be successful," Hall
said. "I'm an optimist, too."
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