Pubdate: Thu, 05 Feb 2009
Source: Birmingham Weekly (AL)
Contact:  2009 Birmingham Weekly
Column: Grass roots politics
Author: Courtney Haden
Bookmark: (Loretta+Nall)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Hemp)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Youth)


As the planning session broke up in elegant old Prince Hall downtown, the
former gubernatorial candidate strode over and asked a visitor, "So, do
you think we're batshit crazy?"

All Loretta Nall and the Alabamians for Compassionate Care want to do is
persuade our monumentally intractable legislature, on the cusp of an
election year, to disregard 70 years of social taboos and a federal
pharmaceutical jihad to ordain that the use of marijuana for medicinal
purposes shall be legal throughout the state.

Of course they're crazy. But folks like Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther
King Jr. used to be called that, too.

For many, the phrase "medical marijuana" conjures up visions of tie-dyed
zonkers malingering their way through bales of government ganja. (In terms
of image, Nall says, "Cheech and Chong have not necessarily been our

The people at Prince Hall Saturday afternoon looked neither hippie nor
dippy. For them, medical marijuana is a crucial factor in improving the
quality of life for chronically ill people, and they couldn't be more
serious about changing the law.

Our modern hysteria over the use of marijuana would have bemused our
ancestors. The Chinese employed it 4,000 years ago as an anesthetic, in
ancient India, doctors prescribed it to mothers in labor and the Egyptians
of long-ago dynasties even used it in suppositories for hemorrhoids. Here
in America, many of the Founding Fathers grew hemp on their plantations,
and marijuana was widely used as a pain reliever in an age before the
invention of aspirin.

Widely used in Dixieland, too. I remember perusing my father's dusty old
volumes from the Medical Association of the State of Alabama and marveling
that, as late as 1900, "botanical" doctors, "vitapathists" and
homeopathics shared the same professional listings as degree-holding
practitioners. Marijuana was only one of the natural remedies that infused
the homemade tonics and elixirs of Alabama physicians.

The tale of how marijuana became proscribed instead of prescribed is too
lengthy and weird to delve into here, but suffice to say the federal
government's prohibition of pot has been every bit as effective as its
prohibition of booze. Despite a long and unimaginably expensive "war on
drugs," millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens continue to enjoy
marijuana recreationally. In 2007, more than 775,000 of them were arrested
just for possessing the drug, according to the FBI.

While researching ways to test for marijuana intoxication in the
Seventies, clinicians discovered reefer's salutary effects on intraocular
pressure, which indicated that marijuana might prevent blindness in
glaucoma patients. Soon after, experimental data revealed that the active
ingredient in marijuana, THC, could stimulate appetite for AIDS victims
and chemotherapy patients. Subsequent tests have shown that medical
marijuana can help over 250 conditions, including asthma, arthritis,
epilepsy and MS.

The ACC's mission is to pass the Michael Phillips Compassionate Care Act,
named after the late Millbrook resident. Phillips was born with a brain
tumor and damaged by futile surgeries to control his seizures. Unlike the
many legal drugs prescribed for him, medical marijuana lessened the
severity and frequency of his attacks. A bold advocate for cannabis during
his short 38 years, he fearlessly testified to the drug's efficacy in a
number of public venues. Noting that more than a dozen states have already
okayed the medical use of marijuana, Phillips memorably observed, "How
come here I'm a criminal, but in California I can be a patient?"

State Representative Patricia Todd is sponsoring this bill for strong
personal reasons. "I feel very passionately about this," she told the
Weekly recently. "I watched my mother die painfully, and I would have done
anything to ease that pain."

Todd admits she's received flak from loyal supporters who'd prefer she
steer away from this controversy, but she believes a majority of
Alabamians empathize with her experience. As she puts it, "I believe in
the wisdom of the people."

Is the Compassionate Care Act a gateway legislation to decriminalizing the
chronic? Nall says no: "We're not interested in legalizing marijuana for
recreational purposes. This is a medical matter." Is there any way on
earth that the ACC could get this bill through a legislature genetically
predisposed to gridlock? Nall is optimistic. Working with Ken Collins of
the Drug Policy Alliance, she has surveyed House members and found more
support than resistance. "I think there's a 50-50 chance we could get it
through the House this session," she said.

The ACC is taking no chances. Already trained to lobby lawmakers
effectively, they plan a day of action in Montgomery March 3. (Although
federal law is still immutable when it comes to prosecuting users, the
Supreme Court last year let stand a California court ruling that state
medical marijuana laws trump federal statutes.)

In the end, the compelling reason to pass the Phillips Act is compassion.
Meeting a fellow named Tim at Prince Hall would have convinced you of
that. A cerebral palsy sufferer, he has tried all manner of muscle
relaxants to control the spasms that knot up his musculature, but
discovered that marijuana has the best effect on his symptoms with the
fewest side effects. He can't afford to use the synthetic legal THC drug
called Marinol, which is not covered by Medicare, so he has risked arrest
and imprisonment for 20 years to obtain a remedy he uses only behind
closed doors in his bedroom.

Tim is candid about championing medical marijuana - It's all about the
quality of life for me - but he quickly asserts that it's not for
everybody. The reason he supports the Compassionate Care Act is deeply
personal. "I don't feel it's a question of if it's going to pass. The
question is, when," he said. "So I feel like I'm fighting against the
clock. With the stress of the cerebral palsy, you just never know when
your time is coming. Plus, I want the advantages of being able to play
with my kids and not having to lie to them about what I'm doing because
it's illegal."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Doug