Branning keeps open mind on marijuana


State Sen. Jenifer Branning says a special session to consider state medical marijuana legislation could be called within the next two weeks and she is keeping an open mind on the issue.

“I haven’t seen a bill yet,” Branning said late last week. 

State Sen. Kevin Blackwell and State Rep. Lee Yancey have been working through the summer to reach an agreement on legislation that both the Senate and House could support since Gov. Tate Reeves has said he will not call a special session until the two chambers have a consensus.

“I did talk to chairman Blackwell today,” Branning said last Friday, “and let him know that I am going to with an open mind consider what the final product is but certainly cannot make any commitment on my vote until I see that final product until I look at it and study it and get feedback from my community and that is what I plan to do before making a decision on my vote in special session.”

Talk of a special session has been looming on the issue since the state Supreme Court in May overturned a medical marijuana initiative approved by voters in the 2020 general election. The high court sided with Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins-Butler who challenged the process by which the measure was placed on the ballots and overturned Initiative 65 that was approved by 58% of the vote, according to certified election results.

Lawmakers immediately vowed to create a state medical marijuana program and urged Gov. Tate Reeves to call a special session. Reeves has said he will not call a special session until the Senate and House have a proposal they agree on as a special session is estimated to cost taxpayers $35,000 per day.

Branning said she has been studying the issue and viewed YouTube videos of three Public Health and Welfare Committee hearings held in June with testimony from public health experts on creating a medical marijuana program.

“I’m just watching to see what issues develop, and I’m going to keep an open mind going forward,” Branning said, adding that during previous Senate discussions on the issue she never saw any legislation she could support. “I did look very closely at all the issues surrounding the legislation that was presented to us and my concern has been one of public safety, public health concern.”

Branning said she felt like most of the measures she has seen were too open-ended.

“I believe the public is interested in a medical marijuana program certainly based on the results of the 65 vote, so I believe we need to be open-minded about it,” Branning said. “However, I also feel like I have a duty to my constituents to sure that if a program is put into place it is one that is tight enough in nature that it does not lead us down a path toward recreational use. That is my concern.”

Branning said she would prefer that any medical marijuana program be handled like any other medically prescribed drug.

“Pill form would be that the most medicinal form that could be offered,” Branning said. “When you get into other forms as in edible or smokable that's where I have a concern. I think that is a very slippery slope, and we need to be careful.”

Branning said she also would prefer that any medical marijuana would only be available through a pharmacy with a prescription rather than through dispensaries.

“The program that Alabama has in place seems to be a true marijuana program that it is just medical in nature, just a true medical marijuana program where you know a prescription is needed from the physician in the product is attained from a pharmacy,” Branning said. “It is just that simple.”

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