On Saturday I got to meet meet with the Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition at their very first gathering, held at beautiful Smith Lake Park near Cullman. I came out of that meeting more convinced than ever that the Heart of Dixie is going to surprise a lot of political observers by recognizing the rights of medical cannabis patients, and that this will happen a lot sooner than many people expect.
The reason for this seemingly unlikely scenario is what could be described as an alliance on this issue between liberal-leaning Democrats and libertarian Republicans, two groups which can agree that the government should allow seriously ill medicinal cannabis patients to use the doctor-recommended medicine which works best for them.
|Photo: Steve Elliott|
|Co-presidents Ron Crumpton, left, and Chris Butts of the Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition, at Saturday's picnic in Smith Lark Park.|
The energetic and visionary leadership of AMMJC, including Co-President/Executive Director Ron Crumpton and Co-President/Board Chair Chris Butts, have their eyes on the goal and a clear idea on how to get there.
One difference between Alabama and many of the states that already have legalized medical marijuana is that Alabama has no ballot initiative process through which the voters themselves can do the deed; citizens of Alabama must instead convince their lawmakers in the Legislature to do the right thing.
"I think that too many groups have tried to approach a Legislature state as if they are running a ballot initiative," Crumpton told me. "Instead of raising hell and holding protests, I feel that it can only be accomplished by building relationships not just with the Legislature, but also with the people that can have profound influence on individual legislators.
"You have to get to the local communities and get members of local government, the small-town newspapers, the doctors and the clergy," Crumpton said. "These people hold a lot of influence with legislators, because legislators need their help to win the next election."
|Toke of the Town editor Steve Elliott speaks at the AMMJC meeting on Saturday|
The inaugural meeting of the AMMJC -- consisting of a picnic at Smith Lake Park, with speeches and lots of informal hobnobbing -- was very well-attended, with about 60 people showing up.
"We honestly expected 20 or 30 people; double our expected turnout is kind of surreal," Chris Butts told me. "Alabama has some of the harshest marijuana laws in the country and I praise everyone who choked back fear and came out for some fun and education.
"It lets us know there are many people that show support for the sick and terminally ill of this great state, many of whom are using marijuana therapeutically right now. Today. Even with the risk of arrest and incarceration," Butts told Toke of the Town. "Logic tells us they take that risk because in their mind the pharmaceuticals they are being prescribed are far worse than their perception of prison. That should tell everyone something."
"We are a true grassroots organization -- concerned citizens from all walks of life, and it was obvious by the attendance," Butts said of Saturday's meeting. "We had attendees over the age of 60, all the way down to young people in their twenties."
|AMMJC Secretary D.J. Butts shares her awesome herbal cooking knowledge|
Along with politically oriented speeches and personal testimonies from co-presidents Butts and Crumpton, attendees got to learn about herbal cooking techniques from AMMJC Secretary D.J. Butts (wife of Chris), who shared her awesome expertise with the fascinated group.
"As with any grassroots organization, funding is our first major hurdle," Chris Butts told me. "While we are indeed looking for grant funds and have contacted some organizations around the country, the economy is hurting everyone, and financial backing is hard to come by in the current climate. It's going to be quite a mountain to climb in the coming months."
Seriously ill patients in Alabama, who are already fighting for their lives and must -- because of the state's lack of recognition for medicinal cannabis -- also fear for their freedom, need to have someone in their corner, Crumpton told me.
"We are not just a medical marijuana organization; we are a patients' rights organization," Crumpton said. "We are going to work with other groups in our communities. We have supporters who suffer from cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease and a host of other illnesses and ailments.
|Jody Parker (left) and Shawn Gober of the AMMJC know how to grill a mean hotdog.|
"When our bill becomes law, we will continue the fight for patients' rights," Crumpton said. "There will be abuses of marijuana patients, and we will help those people. There will be patients' rights issues and we will be on the front lines working for patients.
"I spent five years of my life on chemical medications," Crumpton told me. "I had to have two life-saving surgeries due to the side-effects caused by my medication, and while the opiate-based pain relievers did ease my pain, when I wasn't in pain I would sit waiting and worrying about when the pain would come back.
"They caused me to become clinically depressed and suicidal," Crumpton said. "I do not want to see someone else face the problems that I have because they are being denied access to a safer and more effective medication.
"The picnic was a great event," Crumpton said. "Not only did we have a chance to speak to the group; we had time to sit down and talk with individuals. I was there from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. The actual meeting might have lasted an hour and a half. The rest of the time, we had real conversations; we listened to their stories and their ideas.
"This is, after all, their movement," Crumpton said. "It only makes sense that we listen to what they have to say."