State Sen. Tim Melson wasn't surprised when Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall came out last week against allowing marijuana use for medical purposes in Alabama.
“I was very much expecting it. What I was not expecting was the lack of outreach to address issues and concerns,” said Melson, R-Florence.
Melson sponsored expansive medical marijuana legislation that failed in the state Legislature last year, and is chairman of a task force formed to recommend a draft medical marijuana bill for this year's legislative session, which begins Feb. 4.
Indeed, Marshall's stance isn't in itself surprising. What is surprising is how flimsy it is.
Marshall laid out his concerns in a letter to state lawmakers, and his primary concern is that allowing medical marijuana use would conflict with federal law.
“State laws that allow any use of marijuana, medical or recreational, are in direct conflict with duly-enacted and clearly constitutional federal law," Marshall wrote. "Thus, state marijuana statutes enacted in violation of federal law are damaging to the rule of law itself — a costly precedent that I urge you to bear in mind."
If it's Marshall's position that the state of Alabama must bend the knee to federal law, this would be a first.
Alabama, historically, has had no such qualms about challenging "clearly constitutional federal law" when it comes to issues of civil rights. Indeed the state, and Marshall in his capacity as attorney general, are challenging the federal government right now, defending the nation's toughest abortion restrictions in a direct challenge to the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
The difference when it comes to medical marijuana — and even recreational marijuana use, which isn't an issue here — is the states have been given, if not explicit authority, tacit consent to experiment with loosed restrictions.
Marshall also worries about the health effects, drawing comparisons between marijuana and opioids.
“As with opioids, marijuana is an addictive drug,” he wrote. “Approximately one in 10 adult users of marijuana develops an addiction.”
Marshall also claimed marijuana use does not help people quit opioids, which goes against what evidence we so far have.
“States with access to medical marijuana generally have much lower rates of prescription opioids,” according to a University of Alabama at Birmingham report released last year.
Melson said the attorney general's letter will not deter efforts in the state Legislature to pass meaningful medical marijuana legislation.
Since medical marijuana is the norm in most states, it will be interesting to see if lawmakers will agree with Marshall.