In a fairly surprising move, a comprehensive medical marijuana reform bill passed in an Alabama Senate committee late Wednesday. While not yet law, it marks an important step for the state.
Sen. Bobby Singleton's bill found favor with the Senate Judiciary Committee and a 4-3 vote in favor after little debate. The Medical Marijuana Patient Safe Access Act can now be considered on the Senate floor.
As Senate leadership could refuse to put the bill on a calendar so it can be debated and voted on, it may not end up making it into law.
The committee room was packed with a standing room only crowd hoping to participate in a public hearing on the bill. That hearing, however, was removed from the committee agenda prior to the meeting.
An anonymous marijuana supporter at the hearing, said he is happy the committee passed the bill. He has looked into moving to another state in order to purchase medical marijuana for treatment of his cerebral palsy.
Traditional prescription drugs have not been effective for him.
"I have been more than 10 years sober waiting for something like this," the man said.
Unfortunately for patients in the state Republicans, who have opposed the idea, have a super-majority in the Alabama Legislature. The medical marijuana bill managed to pass today with a Democratic majority.
In an interesting twist the favorable report was achieved because Republican senators Arthur Orr, Greg Reed and Tom Whatley didn't attend the meeting. Sen. Greg Albritton, a Republican, abstained. This could be politicians testing the water in order to re-align their platforms with what is popular.
Democratic senators Vivian Figures, Linda Coleman, Rodger Smitherman and Singleton voted in favor. The remaining senators, all Republican voted against.
Singleton, D-Greensboro, claims he lobbied hard to get the committee to approve the bill. He said he will continue to work diligently to get lawmakers to put the bill on the calendar and heard on the Senate floor.
In order to achieve his goal, in light of almost certain Republican opposition, Singleton admitted he is considering substituting the current bill for a constitutional amendment, which would then be put to a public election.
Singleton believes Republican lawmakers will be more likely to pass the Legislation if it leaves the decision ultimately up to the voting public.
Which brings up a powerful point. There should be more measures, especially ones that have great impact on society like criminalizing petty drug offences, put to public vote. It's healthy for democracy and prevents simple pieces of legislation getting stuck behind a few obstinate elected officials playing partisan politics.