UAB research: Majority of surveyed Alabama physicians support cannabis legalization

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

A new survey published by researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham has shed some light on the level of support that the Compassion Act (SB 165) is likely to garner from Alabama physicians. The survey received funding from the UAB Lister Hill Center for Health Policy.

The Alabama legislature recently voted in favor of the medical cannabis bill, which would enable patients with qualifying conditions to obtain the plant via a state-run program. Should SB 165 be enacted into law, patients who are physician-certified and diagnosed with qualifying conditions like autism, cancer and epilepsy could legally procure their medicine via a state-run program. 

In order to gain the authority to certify patients for enrollment in Alabama’s prospective medical cannabis market, physicians must first gain permission from the State Board of Medical Examiners, as well as partake in a medical cannabis continuing medical education course and a practical test.

“Thousands of studies have shown the value of cannabinoid-based treatments in cancer, epilepsy, pain and other conditions,” said the associate professor in the Department of Sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences at UAB, Magdalena Szaflarski, Ph.D.

Nevertheless, Szaflarski made a point of noting that health providers’ viewpoints and understanding about cannabis and cannabis-based therapies have been varied. With that being said, it is uncertain as to where exactly physicians stand on the subject of medical cannabis legalization in Alabama.

“In collaboration with the Medical Association of the State of Alabama and other community stakeholders, we conducted a survey of MASA members to understand the levels of support for legalization of medical cannabis among physicians in Alabama,” she said.

Support for medical cannabis legalization in Alabama: Survey utilized a structured online questionnaire

Conducted between the months of February and April, the university’s survey into support for medical cannabis legalization in Alabama took just 10 minutes to complete. Respondents were mainly asked about their views on the legalization of provider-recommended medical cannabis use.

In comparison to the amount of support for medical cannabis legalization, the university research team also gathered medical specialties information and questioned Alabama’s physicians about their views on recreational cannabis legalization. 

Currently, 450 physicians of multiple medical specialties partook in the study. The preliminary results indicate ever-growing support for medical cannabis legalization among healthcare practitioners in Alabama. 

To really put this into perspective, almost 70 percent agreed with the statement that suggested legalization of medical cannabis consumption according to a medical provider’s recommendation, whereas approximately 26 percent opposed the statement.

“As expected, the level of support for recreational cannabis legislation among Alabama physicians is markedly lower than for medical cannabis legislation,” said Szaflarski, who noted that the survey also analyzed whether or not Alabama pediatricians support medical cannabis legislation.

“There has been some expectation — and anecdotal evidence — that Alabama pediatricians’ support for medical cannabis legislation would be lower than among all physicians because of concerns about undesirable effects of broadened cannabis access on children and youth,” she explained.

In spite of the lack of support for medical cannabis legislation among Alabama’s pediatricians, the survey results indicate that approximately 72 percent of pediatricians want to see such a law enacted.

Alabama Legislature passes SB 46 to launch a medical cannabis market in the state

Things recently started shifting in the right direction when Senate Bill 46 was approved by the Alabama House of Representatives. The momentous occasion took place during a Legislative session on Thursday, May 6. The measure was approved by a vote of 68 to 34.

SB 46 will create the Darren Wesley ‘Ato’ Hall Compassion Act, which features 16 medical conditions; including Crohn’s disease, epilepsy and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

The bill will provide civil and criminal protections to specific patients with a qualifying medical condition and who possess a valid medical cannabis card.

Moreover, SB 46 will establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which will deal with the statewide licensing and regulation of cannabis cultivation, processing, transporting and testing.

The bill now makes its way to Governor Kay Ivey for her consideration. Should SB 46 be given the go-ahead by the State Governor, it will be effectuated immediately. A spokesperson for Governor Ivey claims that she “looks forward to thoroughly reviewing it.”