Push on for medical marijuana as session nears

By By BRIAN LYMAN

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — At some point during last spring's legislative session, the Medical Association of the State of Alabama conducted a survey of physicians on their attitudes toward medical marijuana, apparently at the request of the House Health Committee

That much is agreed on between MASA and medical marijuana advocates. They differ on what that survey showed.

Over the past week, medical marijuana advocates have been carpet-bombing officials with MASA and the state with form emails urging the release of the survey, which to date has not been publicly released.

"Alabama Safe Access Project (ASAP) has long thought that the reason that the results of the survey have never been released is because they did not yield the results that (House Health Committee chair Jim) McClendon and (MASA president Dr. Michael) Flanagan had hoped for," reads one such letter. "This week we have been told that is the case."

But MASA says the survey did not reveal any new information.

"There was a survey done," said Niko Corley, a spokesman for MASA. "The results were very inconclusive. The data was not released due to the inconclusivity."

The push by medical marijuana advocates comes on the heels of new surveys showing increasing support for marijuana legalization among Americans, and about a year after a brief but emotional debate over medical marijuana in the Alabama Legislature.

The House Health Committee last February considered a bill sponsored by Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, which would have allowed certain patients with doctors' authorizations to purchase up to 10 ounces of marijuana each month to alleviate the symptoms of various debilitating illnesses.

In a rare move, the House Health Committee held a hearing on the proposal out of session in November, 2012. Proponents of the measure, including Ron Crumpton, president and executive director of the Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition, said marijuana consumption helped them manage pain and allowed them to function as productive members of society. However, prosecutors and law enforcement spoke against the measure, arguing that legalization of medical marijuana would invite criminal organizations into the state to cultivate it.

McClendon was blunt during the meeting, saying he did not expect the legislation to get out of committee and that "he certainly didn't see it surviving a vote on the House floor." Flanagan, a Dothan-based physician who was then president-elect of MASA, told the committee he had "not seen a need to include marijuana in a pain reduction plan" and that he saw "insufficient evidence" for the efficacy of marijuana.

In the February meeting, the House Health Committee overwhelmingly rejected Todd's medical marijuana bill; Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, was one of two members to vote in favor of it.

Crumpton, who is running for a state senate seat, said in an interview last week that if the survey showed what he believed it did, it would take an argument away from opponents of medical marijuana.

"It gives us something to argue with," he said. "It may force them to come up with a different (argument). They wouldn't be able to use their old, tired song and dance."

Corley declined to discuss the reasons why the survey was considered inconclusive, but said that MASA does not have an official position on the issue.

"That's not a debate we're going to wade into," he said. "Anything we put out would be used by one side or another to further their argument."

Crumpton declined to discuss his knowledge of the survey, but said he believed the results should be clear-cut.

"I don't see how a question there could be inconclusive," he said. "You're going to have so many yeses or so many nos."

House committees have approved medical marijuana bills in the past, but those approvals have typically come too late in legislative sessions for the bills to win approval by the full Legislature.

Last May, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that three-quarters of doctors in North America said they would approve the use of marijuana in a hypothetical case involving a 68-year-old woman dealing with cancer that had metastasized through her body. In October, Gallup reported that 58 percent of Americans favored the legalization of marijuana. The polling organization said it was the first time in the history of its polling that a clear majority of Americans favored legalization.

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Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

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