The debate over whether to allow medical marijuana dispensaries within Mobile's city limits grew heated Monday, resulting in council members walking out of a meeting.
When the ordinance for medical marijuana dispensaries was introduced on November 22 during a council meeting, it became apparent not everyone was on board. The Public Services Committee held a meeting on November 28 to hear more facts and consider public concerns. The meeting was moved to allow a member of the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC) to attend. However, when the member did not show, the council made do with a call from Daniel Autrey, the assistant director for the AMCC, to take questions.
District 6 Councilman Scott Jones asked Autrey for details on the process for businesses to be running by June of 2023. Jones told 1819 News he had read the information the AMCC had provided online but wanted clear answers from the source.
"My problem is this, and this is why I went so hard at him: I can read what's online, but the deputy director should be able to tell me," Jones said to 1819 News. "... You should be able to clearly articulate all of these processes. I shouldn't have to go online."
The AMCC must approve marijuana dispensaries, but dispensaries must also attain business licenses from cities. Several other cities have already passed ordinances to make way for the dispensaries.
Jones used the CBD oil business as an example of how things allowed by the state are not always regulated correctly. He said some CBD businesses sell products that, if tested for levels of THC, would be illegal. His concern is that the commission will allow these businesses to operate but will leave the city to deal with issues in the future.
"Folks, I don't know how to get answers," said Jones. "The only thing that I've heard is how much money this is going to bring to our city."
Jones was visibly frustrated during the meeting while asking Autrey questions about the commission's operations.
"Maybe y'all should be on the commission. Y'all know more about this than I'm being told up here," Jones said to people attending the meeting.
Then Autrey shot back, saying, "Maybe you should be. Maybe that's what you ought to do. You ought to change jobs and be on here."
"I didn't say me," Jones replied.
"I did. I said you," Autrey replied.
"I don't want it," Jones ended the back and forth briefly.
The two continued to discuss the processes the commission would go through if problems were identified with businesses selling medical marijuana. Jones said he simply wanted to get answers for his constituents before he voted to pass an ordinance.
Sam Marsal, the director of membership for the Alabama Medical Cannabis Association, joined the meeting virtually. He said he does not have a medical background, but he handles the membership part of the association. Marsal believes the majority of Alabamians support medical marijuana.
"Our poll shows that 79% of Alabamians are for medical cannabis, 9% against," Marsal said. "And the most interesting part of our poll is that 54% of Republicans in the state of Alabama would not vote for an incumbent or somebody running for office that is against the current law or would like to change it."
During the presentation, Autry also explained how doctors would be allowed to issue medical cards for medical cannabis.
"First of all, they would see patients, and the law prescribes qualifying conditions that a patient must have to be considered for that," Autrey explained.
Qualifying conditions to allow people to be prescribed medical marijuana in Alabama are:
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Cancer-related cachexia, nausea or vomiting, weight loss, chronic pain
Epilepsy or a condition causing seizures
HIV/AIDS-related nausea or weight loss
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Sickle Cell Anemia
Spasticity associated with Multiple Sclerosis or spinal cord injury
A terminal illness
Condition causing chronic or intractable pain
Christine Carr, a certified registered nurse anesthetist specialist in Birmingham, drove to Mobile Monday to present information to the committee on problems she has seen with the medical marijuana business. She said she applauds the city of Mobile for taking the time to consider an ordinance.
"Allowing the marijuana industry into Mobile at this time would prove disastrous for our most vulnerable people," said Carr. "For their sake, wait. Do not opt in this year and insist that Montgomery fix these problems."
Carr said what the state is allowing is not true medicine. She said four FDA-approved cannabis-based drugs are already available to patients in Alabama. Carr said she had seen evidence that extended use of marijuana for pain reduction can lead to cravings for opioids. She is also concerned with higher rates of autism and cancer.
District 2 City Councilman William Carroll and District 3 City Councilman C.J. Small left the meeting as Carr was outlining possible costs to hospitals.
Jones told 1819 News he planned to communicate information from the presentation to the other council members before the vote on December 13.
"We cannot sit here and say we want Mobile to be a safe city and pass this because it's not going to be a safe city," said Jones. "We have data from all other cities that have passed this, where crime has increased."
Jones said as far as zoning, the Unified Development Code would mean that marijuana dispensaries would be treated as any other pharmacy. Therefore, anywhere there is a pharmacy, there could be a dispensary. He said the city would have to specify areas where it does not want dispensaries if there are certain areas where they are unwanted.
The state will allow 12 cultivators, four processors, four dispensary licensees (that may operate three locations each), and five integrated facility licenses (where businesses may grow, process, transport and dispense medical cannabis). The application process includes a background check, analysis of financial ability, moral character and business background. The AMCC may choose who is eligible for a license based on their analysis of these and other factors. Applications are due by December 30.
Jones and law enforcement officials across the state believe legal, medical marijuana dispensaries will have little to no impact on the illegal drug trade in Alabama.
You can read the state's regulations for medical cannabis dispensaries here.
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