The city of Mobile has joined other municipalities across the state in allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to operate within its city limits. A new ordinance passed during a regular council meeting on Tuesday after weeks of heated debate over the issue.
Several community members, both in support of and in opposition to the ordinance, came to the meeting to have their voices heard. Among those who spoke was a man currently applying with the Alabama Cannabis Commission for a dispensary license.
Zachary Huey, a Mobile attorney, said individuals should be able to make decisions on their health, and he wants to make that happen. He said he wants to help others exercise medical freedom and give relief to those in need.
“I’m applying for this license because I grew up as a part of this community, I’ve seen people who are hurt, and I believe this will give people more options in their healthcare and give them choices in how they care and treat themselves and things that are best for them,” Huey told the council.
Huey, who went to the University of Colorado Law School, told 1819 News that during his time in Colorado, he saw the benefits of medical marijuana.
“What I saw is when the Colorado Regulatory Body started tracking data from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, that teen use of cannabis has decreased over time,” he said. “Furthermore, what I saw was that crime statistics were kind of a wash, to be honest. It didn’t really impact it. Sometimes it’s up. Sometimes it’s down. I also saw state revenue increase, and that revenue in Colorado was then funneled into different care programs for at-risk population.”
Huey was one of a few who voiced support for medical marijuana in Mobile. In fact, he said he was nervous about presenting his position due to the level of opposition in the city. When he spoke with 1819 News after the meeting, he said he could not disclose possible locations for his businesses because of the sensitivity of the application process and possible competitors. However, he did say he has a plan for the safety and security of his potential businesses. Those plans include security guards, a vault and cameras.
SEE PREVIOUS STORY: Mobile City Council to vote on marijuana dispensary ordinance after heated debate
Many community members came out against the ordinance to no avail.
Timothy Jensen, development director at the Mission of Hope, was one of those dissenters.
“I’m here today to raise a hallelujah,” said Jensen. “I’m here today to raise a hallelujah because there are 20 states who have gone before Alabama and passed medical marijuana legislation. They’ve gone down this road ahead of us, and they’re now calling back to us to tell us what lies ahead if this legislation passes. I’m here to raise a hallelujah because they’re sending studies and reports that warn us of the myriad of negative outcomes that will happen in our state if this legislation passes.”
Jensen claimed the ordinance would not work economically or medically.
Others in opposition to the ordinance voiced concerns over who will benefit from dispensary revenue, medical marijuana exposure and impact on children, the monitoring and enforcement of dispensaries in the city and the possibility that marijuana being a gateway to harder drugs.
“The reality is, and other states have shown this: that medical marijuana is a stepping stone. It is a waypoint to a destination of allowing recreational marijuana. It normalizes marijuana use,” said Sam Sinclair, the pastor of Cloverleaf Baptist Church.
Sinclair continued saying medical marijuana would only put more drugs on the streets of Mobile, destroying lives in the process.
Two parents addressed the council about their children’s experiences. One mom said marijuana was the substance that led her son to homelessness and addiction. However, the other parent, Mike Dow, a U.S. veteran and former Mobile mayor, supports medical marijuana because he said it is a medication many people need.
“My son committed suicide,” Dow told the council. “I spent three years in Vietnam. Veterans in our country are at the rate of 24 a day committing suicide.
“[T]hese medicines that the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB) are producing are medicines that help these people. They’re medicines. It’s not smokable marijuana. It’s not cowboy stuff from California and Colorado. These are medicines.”
Dow said medical marijuana would be heavily regulated from seed to sale in the state of Alabama.
Other supporters said the state has already passed laws to allow medical marijuana and that it is the city’s job to implement an ordinance to allow for medical marijuana dispensaries. They said for those who are in medical need of medical marijuana, it is the council’s responsibility to allow it to be sold in their city.
Community members were not the only ones at odds over the ordinance. Councilmembers argued the issue, as they have for weeks.
SEE ALSO: Mobile Council members walk out of meeting on medical marijuana as heated debate continues
District 6 Councilman Scott Jones said while there is a place for medical marijuana, he said he believes FDA-approved medications are already available to those who need them.
“There’s not one pill that will go through a dispensary that is FDA approved,” he said. “If all of this has been done, all of this research has been done through all of these universities, then why hasn’t it [gone] through the FDA and been accepted? It hasn’t.”
Jones said people with conditions such as anxiety and PTSD could already obtain medical marijuana. He said the ordinance to allow medical marijuana dispensaries will only put more pressure on law enforcement.
Jones spoke for over 15 minutes about his opposition to the ordinance.
District 4 Councilman Ben Reynolds said he still has many questions about medical marijuana legislation and the processes it would involve.
“I can’t get to a yes vote on this thing,” Reynolds said. “I think we need to have a lot more discussion about this, and with that, I move that we hold this thing over until Valentine’s Day.”
District 2 Councilman William Carroll called for Reynolds’ motion to be held out of order because there was already a motion on the floor. The two continued into a back-and-forth about the rules of the council meeting and Robert’s Rules of Order. After a short break, District 5 Councilman Joel Daves, who entered the original motion to vote on the ordinance, asked to withdraw his motion so that another motion could be entered to push back the vote.
“This is in an effort to get this ordinance past the first of the year so that we’ll be able to address the things that we’re supposed to address as a city,” said Reynolds. “The zoning, parking, taxes, all the other little fingers of this that implicate our citizens in this, and I hope we can take the time we need to get this thing right the first time.”
The motion to push back the vote failed, and Ordinance 01-062 authorizing the operation of medical cannabis dispensing in city limits was approved in a 5 to 2 vote, with only Reynolds and Jones voting "no."
You can watch the entire council meeting and discussion below.
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