Local autism advocate Melissa Mullins, right, is the Alabama Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition's (ARAMP) administrative assistant. Mullins works with ALRAMP chapter president Marty Chelper, left.

Alexander City resident Melissa Mullins knows medical marijuana could help two of the people closest to her along with many others in need and that’s why she’ll be at the statehouse Wednesday. 

Mullins is going with Alabama Chapter of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (ALRAMP) to advocate for the state Senate’s medial marijuana bill called the Compassion Act or State Bill 165.

Mullins will attend the Senate’s Judiciary Committee’s public meeting with fellow ALRAMP members at 8:30 a.m.

Mullins is ALRAMP’s executive administrative assistant, which is a nonprofit that supports “safe, legal and regulated use by doctors for compassionate medical care and storefronts for adult recreational use,” according to its website.

Mullins said she is personally interested in medical marijuana because it will benefit her family. Mullins has been a member of ALRAMP for about eight months and joined after finding cannabis benefits for epilepsy, which her husband has. 

Her daughter Torrie, 17, has autism and has anxiety doing things many people consider simple, such as walking through Walmart. Using medical marijuana can help with anxiety, according to Mullins.

“For her, that’s going to be the biggest benefit, but for some kids on the (autism) spectrum, depending on where they are, it will help them verbalize,” Mullins said. “It helps them be able to cope in different situations. It increases the way they think.”

Mullins said the legalization of cannabis is a nonpartisan issue and the chapter wants only medical marijuana. She does not advocate for recreational use.

“It’s about giving people their life back,” Mullins said. “It (might not) work for some people and it’s probably not going to work for everybody because everybody’s body is different.”

The bill is for people with debilitating conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, autism, epilepsy, cancer or others it may benefit. Mullins said studies have shown increases in cognitive behavior and thoughts in autistic children.

“Our main focus right now is hopefully to get people to understand there is a huge difference between recreational and medical,” Mullins said. “This is not about recreational. This is about the safe access to medical cannabis for qualifying patients.”

Mullins hopes the committee will approve the bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence), and it will get voted on on the Senate floor. If the bill becomes law, the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission will be established, which would start a patient registry system; issue medical cannabis cards and licenses for the cultivating, processing, dispensing, transporting and testing of medical cannabis; adopt rules on medical marijuana; impose restrictions on licensee activity; and generally regulate, administer and enforce a medical cannabis program in the state.

The Medical Cannabis Appeal Panel, which would allow medical cannabis in certain extenuating circumstances, would also get established.  

The bill intends for marijuana to be used as oral tablets, capsules, cannabis oil, lozenges, gel, oil or cream, patches or nebulizer. Vaping, using a cannabis-infused food product and the raw plant itself are not included in the bill. 

“This is just about the medical proponents of the plant,” Mullins said.

The bill would authorize the Department of Agriculture and Industries to regulate cultivation and create the Medical Cannabis Research Consortium to provide grant monies using tax proceeds for research.

Mullins said she doesn’t think the bill is perfect but it’s a starting point for legalizing medical marijuana.

Mullins encourages people to read the bill to hopefully remove the stigma around the controversial topic. 

“This is about medicating with a cannabinoid, which your body has an endocannabinoid system,” Mullins said. “The dosing is different. There’s a multitude of different kinds of cannabis depending on how it is harvested from the plant. I don’t think a lot of people understand that.

“I think when we start putting the bad apples above the health benefits of the truly in-need patients, I think that’s a very slippery slope.”