Mobile city officials are poised to support an ordinance next month that would allow for a medical marijuana dispensary.
But one council member is sounding the alarm about a program he says Alabama state lawmakers will back in 2021 that will increase crime and herald the start of legalized recreational marijuana.
Mobile City Councilman Scott Jones admitted after a Public Services Committee meeting Monday that he does not have the votes to prevent the council from approving an ordinance that would allow a medical marijuana dispensary within city limits could bring.
But he said the intent of the committee meeting is to provide information about a system he believes will make mobile less secure while increasing revenue for those investing in the burgeoning Alabama industry.
“I’d like to have an honest discussion and debate,” said Jones, who argues that not enough information has been provided on how the industry is monitored under the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission — the organization tasked with implementing the state’s medical cannabis program Marijuana is mandated – Rollout in June 2023.
“Look at what happened today,” Jones continued. “No one asked any difficult questions. I think opinions are composed.”
Jones said he expects the council to vote on the regulation on December 13.
On Monday, the committee meeting chaired by Jones had two highlights: a back-and-forth between himself and Daniel Autrey, associate director of the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission; and testimony from Christine Carr, a board-certified anesthesiologist in the Birmingham area.
Carr, who has supported the conservative Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP) in urging Alabamians to reject medical marijuana, argued that bringing the industry into Alabama will lead to a rise in so-called “pot houses” where people with Diseases can get several prescriptions for the use of marijuana.
Alabama’s new law allows medical marijuana for more than a dozen conditions or symptoms, including cancer-related pain, autism, depression, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS-related nausea or weight loss, PTSD, among others.
It prohibits marijuana from being smoked, vaporized or coated in sugar, or added to edibles and sold as a raw plant. The new law states that the product can be delivered via a tablet, capsules, transdermal patches and oils for use in an inhaler. The state Cannabis Commission has designated peach as “a universal flavor” for jelly cubs and lozenges that will be part of the new program when it launches next summer.
Carr urged City of Mobile officials to slow down and consider what they felt would be the implications of allowing a pharmacy in the city.
“For the sake of our future, we should do this right,” she said.
Councilor Joel Daves said he believes the Alabama law has already been “carefully scrutinized” and developed by state legislatures who introduced the program during the 2021 legislative session.
“I don’t think anyone would argue that the Alabama legislature is a hotbed of progressive thinking,” said Councilman Joel Daves. “I would think that this law was very carefully considered by the Alabama Legislature and (Republican) Gov. (Kay) Ivey before she signed it.”
Most cities approving ordinances with limited debate. Carr himself spoke out against medical marijuana in Montgomery while the bill was originally up for debate in 2021.
According to the State Cannabis Commission, 28 cities have enacted ordinances and six counties have passed resolutions allowing a medical marijuana dispensary in their jurisdictions. A city or county government must approve an ordinance or resolution in order to house a pharmacy.
Jones said he doesn’t like how the state has empowered cities to choose whether to host a pharmacy.
“We have to be the enforcement arm with our police force and our sheriffs already taxed,” Jones said, referring to an increase in criminal matters facing local law enforcement. “Where are the regulatory processes for these deals? Where are those checks and balances?”
Few cities have spoken out against ordinances. Fairhope was the youngest, voting 5-1 in late October to allow a medical marijuana dispensary after council members said they were inundated with emails from opponents.
Carr said it’s “really sad” that most city councils passed ordinances without “robust debate, expert panels and public hearings.”
“We’re already seeing marijuana affecting your elected officials as most passed these regulations without even opening a public debate,” she said.
There’s no guarantee a medical marijuana operation will come to Mobile.
Jones said he expects approval of an application in Mobile due to interest from investors looking to set up operations on the Alabama coast.
Alabama state law limits the number of dispensaries statewide to 37. As of Friday, the state had received 239 requests for applications to operate a dispensary in Alabama. Application deadline is December 30th.
“It’s coming, and it’s a springboard for recreational use,” he said.
Alabama became the 37th state to legalize medical marijuana in the spring of 2021. Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law, although 21 states have it according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Voters earlier this month approved recreational marijuana use by adults in Missouri and Maryland but denied it on ballot initiatives in Arkansas and North and South Dakota.
Oklahoma voters will have the opportunity to decide on recreational marijuana use during a special election in March.
Many Americans believe that marijuana should be legalized to some extent. A Pew Research poll conducted last year found that 60% of respondents believe it should be legalized for both medical and recreational use.