Legal marijuana in state ‘unlikely’

Adrienne Burch

Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana on Tuesday, Nov. 6, but the passing of similar legalization in the state of Alabama does not appear likely, at least not in the near future.

“It is doubtful that broad legislation of marijuana use will occur in the foreseeable future in Alabama,” Joseph Colquitt, Beasley professor of law and a retired Alabama circuit judge, said. “There have been efforts to legalize marijuana for medical use, but even those efforts have been unsuccessful.”

While other states are legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, Alabama is still fighting the battle for legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. Medicinal marijuana has been approved in some form in 18 states plus the District of Columbia. Two medicinal marijuana bills have been introduced to the Alabama state legislature in 2012, but both failed to get out of committee.

A hearing was held on Nov. 14 to allow advocates and opponents of legalizing medicinal marijuana in Alabama to speak up. One of the primary proponents is Republican State Rep., K.L. Brown.

Brown said he first became an advocate of medicinal marijuana use when he saw it help his sister who was suffering from breast cancer 25 years ago.

“I have seen so many cases that I just felt like the people could have gotten help,” Brown said. “Many people are just trying to get back into a shape where they can work, and the pain medication they are on will not allow them to do that.”

He said he believes medicinal marijuana could be beneficial to people dealing with medical issues ranging from cancer to HIV/AIDS. However, Brown said he was discouraged by the hearing last week, and he does not feel like the bill has any real chance of passing in the near future.

“If you were at the makeup of the health committee and heard the responses we got after the hearing, I doubt it will ever even get out of committee,” he said.

Rebecca Howell, a UA assistant professor of criminal justice, said she believes one of the main reasons Alabama will not legalize marijuana use of any sort is because there are still a large number of evangelical Christians and non-Christians who are conservative on social and fiscal issues in the state.

“To date, these individuals, Christians and non-Christian conservatives still outnumber those Alabamians who are secular proOVERSET FOLLOWS:gressives in mindset and action,” Howell said. “Hence, to date, when Alabama has held referendum on medical marijuana, this policy has been voted down by the bulk of voters.”

Howell said many people view the medical use of marijuana as a guise that places society on a slippery slope toward the eventual future decriminalization and regulated legalization of marijuana.

“This is accomplished by slowly making members of society comfortable with the idea of legislated marijuana use,” she said.

Howell also said many voters in Alabama realize the symptoms of illnesses that marijuana can treat can, most times, be dealt with successfully using other legal drugs that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Colquitt said he also sees many reasons Alabama voters will not legalize marijuana in the state. He said groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving take strong positions against the legalization of drug use because they believe it will exacerbate the problem of impaired driving.

While Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana on the state level, there is still question as to the actual affect this will have because marijuana remains illegal on the federal level. So far, federal authorities have been taking a “wait-and-see” approach in Colorado and Washington as those states implement their new laws.

“It will be interesting to see in the coming months how the federal government will approach these new state laws,” Howell said. “If there is an actual confrontation, federalism triumphs if the states win out. If the federal government wins out and the states are forced to revert back to full prohibition of marijuana use, federalism loses and big government wins.”