/The future of medical cannabis in Alabama 
Graphic by Bell Jackson

The future of medical cannabis in Alabama 

By Wesley Walter 

In May 2021, Alabama became the 37th state to adopt a medical cannabis program. However, despite the law being in place for over a year, according to the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, access to medical cannabis is not expected to reach Alabama citizens until late 2023 at the earliest.  

The commission, which consists of 14 members from different fields, has worked over the last year to develop comprehensive regulations for the growth, processing, sale and prescription of medical cannabis.  

According to the AMCC, to apply for a medical cannabis card, patients must be 19 or older, exhibit one of 14 qualifying conditions, including various mental and physical illness and conditions, and receive a physician’s certification.  

Physicians must be authorized by the state to recommend medical cannabis to their patients. This requires they take a 4-hour course regarding medical cannabis and complete an exam.  

Products allowed under the law include tablets, capsules, tinctures, gels, oils or creams for topical use, suppositories, transdermal patches, nebulizers and liquids or oils to be used in an inhaler. The law does not allow for any raw plant material, products that may be smoked or vaped or food products such as cookies or candies. Edible gels are allowed to be flavored, with the AMCC voting peach as the official uniform flavor for any flavored products.   

Additionally, the AMCC has been working to regulate the location and operation of dispensaries.  

Cities or counties must pass an ordinance allowing dispensaries within their limits. Currently, 15 cities and four counties have passed ordinances to allow licensing.   

This does not mean dispensaries are allowed to be opened freely within the approved jurisdictions. Business owners wishing to open a dispensary will still need to apply for a license to operate. The AMCC began accepting applications for Medical Cannabis Business Licenses on Sept. 1. However, the number of licenses that will be given out is limited to four initially.   

License holders are able to open three dispensaries as long as they are within separate counties. Licenses are expected to be issued by next summer.  

Although there is not a request for licensing from Montevallo or Shelby County officials as of Oct. 13, the potential of dispensaries in Shelby County has received backlash.  

Sarah Hogan, Program Director of IMPACT Montevallo, a local drug prevention coalition, spoke against the possibility licensing in the city during the Sept. 12 city council meeting.   

Hogan and IMPACT Montevallo believe the presence of a dispensary in town will increase the likelihood of recreational cannabis use among young people.  

Hogan outlined her opinion saying, “The sale of medical marijuana would increase the exposure of the substance to our youth and continue to decrease the perception of harm of the drug.  Data shows that teen usage has increased over the last 5 years as marijuana becomes legalized, as teens may not associate any risk with the drug. Having our youth exposed to the drug everyday in our town, could negatively effect the perception of harm which could increase usage.”  

Hogan expressed a desire for more regulations on the placement of dispensaries within Montevallo saying, “Should the City Council adopt an ordinance to allow dispensaries in the city, I would propose that restrictions be placed on where the dispensary would be located, such as not within 2000 ft. of a school, park, etc.”  

Resistance to the presence of dispensaries has also been seen in Pelham, when the Pelham City Council issued a proclamation stating its opposition to dispensaries being allowed within Pelham.  

Like Hogan, the Pelham City Council believes the presence of a dispensary would increase recreational use in the surrounding community.  

A portion of the proclamation reads, “the Council remains steadfastly dedicated to protecting its residents from the dangers and risks to public health and safety of recreational cannabis use and, further, protecting its residents from the public health and safety issues stemming from the operation of a cannabis dispensary within the boundaries of the City of Pelham.”  

Whether or not any Shelby County cities attempt to allow dispensaries within their borders the pushback from local organizations and the limited number of dispensaries allowed by regulations leave an uncertain future for the sale of medical cannabis in Shelby County. 

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Wesley Walter is managing editor for The Alabamian. He is a junior English major and mass communications minor. Wesley boasts a 750 credit score, boyish good looks and soulful eyes that contain a deep indescribable sadness. In his free time, he enjoys travelling, visiting gas stations and thinking about getting into surfing.