The Huntsville City Council introduced an ordinance Thursday evening to allow medical cannabis dispensaries to operate within city limits.

Henry Thornton, external relations officer for the city, gave a detailed presentation laying out the benefits of medical cannabis and how Huntsville could best participate in the state's program.

Thornton said by being the 37th state to approve medical marijuana, Alabama was able to learn from and avoid some of the problems encountered by other states. He mentioned having a shorter application window, including trackable barcodes on the products, and not allowing marijuana in smokeable form as a few issues Alabama was able to improve on by waiting.

Some of the dispensing site regulations Thornton highlighted include prohibiting the advertising of brands on the site's exterior, barring entry to the general public other than patients with a valid medical cannabis card, locating in a stand-alone building at least 1,000 feet from a school or child care facility and providing 24-hour audio/visual surveillance plus at least one security guard during business hours.

In response to a question asked by councilman Devyn Keith, Thornton said there would be no pricing parameters set on medical cannabis products other than licensing fees and taxes.

Keith also asked about the criminality of the products if, for example, a person legally allowed to have them was in a car with other people not legally allowed. Thornton said he would have to look more into that type of scenario, but the ordinance would prohibit the reselling of legally purchased medical cannabis products.

He added that an employer could still take action against an employee for testing positive for marijuana on a drug test even if they're a legal user.

"As we develop this, I actually respect the administration taking a very cautious stance," Keith said. "But what I think you will see down the line…There are other things we need to consider as a city to make sure we are not creating a more stringent — I will say more polarized effects on communities who might potentially use this or individuals who might come in contact with it."

Mayor Tommy Battle said the council will vote on the ordinance in two weeks, and if approved, the first licenses will go out in June 2023.

"We have a lot of things we need to do very cautiously to make sure that this works in the right manner… We will start off very conservatively in this," Battle added.

The Huntsville Planning Commission met Wednesday to begin drafting zoning plans for the dispensaries. Manager of planning services Thomas Nunez said the plan so far is to add an allowable use to an existing zone, similar to how alcohol vendors are approved. The final zoning plan will be presented in December if the council approves the ordinance at its next meeting on October 27.

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