Pubdate: Sun, 19 Feb 2012
Source: Anniston Star (AL)
Copyright: 2012 Consolidated Publishing
Author: Patrick McCreless


Supporters of a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Alabama are
tweaking the legislation to make it more palatable to lawmakers.

The changes may not be enough to address local law enforcement
concerns, however.

Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, filed a bill this legislative session
to legalize marijuana for medicinal uses only. The Alabama Medical
Marijuana Coalition, which composed the bill, is working on amendments
to address concerns from other lawmakers. One amendment would add a 5
percent tax to medical marijuana sales that would be distributed to
city and county law enforcement agencies in the state to combat the
trafficking and production of illegal drugs. Another would define the
relationship between patients and doctors to curb possible abuse of
the system.

"That's being done so a person cannot just walk in and give money and
get a marijuana card," said Ron Crumpton, co-president and executive
director of the Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition, formed in June
for the sole purpose of legalizing medicinal marijuana in Alabama.
"The change will require a doctor to do what he normally does when
handling prescriptions."

Crumpton said the bill and the amendments had garnered positive
responses from other state legislators.

"I'm real optimistic we'll get it passed this year," he

Among other things, the legislation lists the medical conditions that
can be treated with marijuana and indicates the drug can only be
purchased legally at mandated marijuana distribution centers. People
given prescriptions for medicinal marijuana will be required to carry
identification cards authorized by the Alabama Department of Public
Health. The bill also states a patient can possess no more than 8
ounces of marijuana at a time or no more than 12 marijuana plants at a

To Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson, legalizing the ability to own
and grow marijuana plants has him most concerned.

"Under this bill, I can grow it at home," Amerson said. "Can I grow
cocaine at home or opiates? No and there is a good reason for that -
it's because I'd be self-medicating."

Amerson said the bill was turning a blind eye to the medical
industry's pharmacy system. He added that legalizing growth of
marijuana could lead to increased abuse of the drug among teenagers.

"For young people, the number one source from where they get marijuana
is free from family and friends," Amerson said.

According to a study last year by the Substance Abuse and Mental
Health Administration, 55.6 percent of teenagers between 12 and 14
years old get marijuana free from their friends while 10.1 percent get
it from family.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) does not support current
forms of medical marijuana policies in the country. Currently, 16
states allow medical marijuana use. According to the NIDA's website,
though studies have shown marijuana contains active ingredients that
relieve pain and other ailments, marijuana itself is an unlikely
medication candidate.

The site states marijuana is an unpurified plant containing chemicals
with unknown health effects and that it is typically smoked, further
contributing to adverse effects. The site also states the promise in
marijuana lies instead in designing tailored medications, developed
from marijuana's active components, for specific conditions or
symptoms with improved risk and benefit profiles.

The NIDA states effects of marijuana use include short-term memory
loss, loss of reaction time, altered judgment and mood changes.
However, a January study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham
indicates that occasional use of marijuana apparently affects lung
capacity less than smoking cigarettes. An occasional user would be
someone who smoked a joint a day for seven years, said Dr. Stefan
Kertesz, associate professor at UAB and senior author of the study.

"This study did not include people who smoke enough to end up in
addiction treatment," Kertesz said. "This was a survey of the general

The UAB study compiled data from a 20-year study on causes of
cardiovascular disease funded by the National Heart Lung and Blood

"With marijuana, we saw airflow actually improve a little bit relative
to cumulative use," Kertesz said. "And we also looked at tobacco
smoke, which has a very predictable relationship to air flow - it goes
down when smoking increases."

However, Kertesz noted, while marijuana smokers showed increased lung
capacity in the study, that did not suggest that marijuana improves
lung function.

"The act of smoking marijuana could just train users to test better,"
Kertesz said. "You have to take a real deep breath and blow for the
air flow test, which is very similar to how people smoke marijuana, as
opposed to cigarettes."

The Alabama bill does not address the controversy surrounding the use
of marijuana for medical purposes. However, it does address problems
of abuse in the system that other states with legal medical marijuana
have faced, such as Colorado.

That state legalized medical marijuana in 2000 and established a
registry system for the drug. However, unlike Alabama's bill,
Colorado's law did not specify what constituted a doctor-patient

"We had reports of people going into marijuana dispensaries, saying
things like 'I have an ear ache' and getting an authorization form,"
said Mark Salley, director of communications for the Colorado
Department of Public Health and Environment, which oversees the
marijuana registry.

Salley added that in 2009, a court decision overturned a badly-worded
section of the marijuana law, basically removing the five marijuana
patient limit for caregivers in the state. With caregivers now allowed
to have as many patients as they wanted, the number of marijuana
dispensaries in the state and medical marijuana users exploded.

Salley said the number of registered medical marijuana users in
Colorado increased to 41,107 in 2009 from 4,720 in 2008.

"Before that, the registry grew very slowly for years and years,"
Salley said.

By the end of 2010, the number of registered users had increased to

Almost two years ago, however, Colorado amended the law to address the
problems, Salley said. After a peak of 127,816 registered users in
July, the number has dropped and when last checked in August, was at
88,872 registered users.

Salley could not confirm that the drop was due to the changes in the
law though.

"If you asked 10 different people you'll get 10 different answers," he
said. "It could be that some people just no longer needed to use the
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