“She spent her last days on morphine, which made her hallucinate” before switching to marijuana, said Brown, R-Jacksonville.
Brown had seen that story unfold before. As director of K.L. Brown Funeral Home in Jacksonville, he said he’d seen many families lose their last precious days with terminally ill family members to a haze of pain medications.
That’s why Brown traveled to Montgomery on Wednesday to urge lawmakers to consider legalizing medicinal marijuana, which, advocates say, works better for some patients.
“I would just ask all of you to keep an open mind,” Brown told members of the House Health Committee at a Wednesday hearing at the Statehouse. He was one of dozens who showed up at the hearing, in which committee members heard arguments for and against legalizing marijuana for medical uses.
Committee chair Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, was quick to point out that the hearing wasn’t being held to vote on a specific bill — but the medical marijuana issue has been before the Legislature before. Brown sponsored a medical marijuana bill in the last session of the Legislature. Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, told The Star earlier this month that she was sponsoring a similar bill for the session that begins in February.
Todd, who works for an AIDS relief agency, told the committee she’d seen marijuana use relieve the pain of patients in their final days.
“What I’m talking about is giving physicians another tool in their toolbox,” she said.
But the president-elect of the Alabama Medical Association, Dr. Michael Flanagan, told the board he didn’t need that tool.
“As a pain physician, I have not found a need to introduce marijuana” into patients’ treatment, said Flanagan, an anesthesiologist. Flanagan said studies showed little evidence that marijuana use helps patients with their pain more effectively than other drugs.
Others said the medical marijuana would complicate the government’s efforts to rein in the illicit sale of marijuana for recreational use. Randy Hillman, director of the state District Attorneys Association, said patients would likely get their marijuana from illegal sources — either from foreign cartels or from local growers who cultivate booby-trapped fields of pot plant, sometimes on public land.
Opponents of medical marijuana said the availability of marijuana through prescriptions could be a gateway to greater availability of marijuana for illegal purposes.
Jeanie Arnold of Muscle Shoals said she didn’t want to see that happen. Arnold said her granddaughter was killed when her son-in-law’s car was struck by a driver who was using marijuana.
“Now, this is the safe drug, right? she said. “Marijuana doesn’t kill anybody? My family would tell you that it does.”
But several patients at the hearing said they’d tried legal prescription pain drugs and found that they didn’t work, and are more dangerous.
“Whether it will kill somebody has not been an issue with Oxycontin” said Ron Crumpton, who said he suffers from spinal stenosis and smokes four one-gram marijuana cigarettes every day. Marijuana was being held to a stricter standard than other pain drugs, he said.
Crumpton said someone high on Percocet — a legal drug sometimes sold illegally for recreational use — would also be a dangerous driver.
Cullman resident Christopher Butts said an addiction to legal painkillers, prescribed after an injury, made a mess of his marriage. He said he switched to marijuana, mixed into brownies or cookies, and got pain relief without the same problem.
Rep. Joe Hubbard, D-Montgomery, asked Butts why he couldn’t use Marinol, a synthetic alternative to marijuana.
“Quite frankly, I used it a little over a month,” Butts said. It worked, he said, but his insurance wouldn’t cover it and he couldn’t afford the $800-per-month cost.
The meeting ended without a vote, but committee members and other legislators said legalization had little chance of passing.
“This is Alabama,” said Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur. “We still have counties in this state that are dry counties.”
Committee member Rep. Jim Patterson, R-Meridianville, said that if put to a statewide vote, medical marijuana would fail “70 to 30 against.” Other committee members said medical marijuana advocates would have to convince the public before getting lawmakers to change their position.
“I don’t see it happening until there’s a sea change that will occur,” McClendon said.
Capitol & statewide correspondent: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.