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 alarms over what he believes is a program, backed by Alabama state lawmakers in 2021, that will increase crime and usher in the beginning of legalized recreational marijuana.
Mobile City Councilman Scott Jones, following a Public Services Committee meeting on Monday, admitted that he does not have the votes to stop the council from approving an ordinance that could bring a medical marijuana dispensary within city limits.
But he said the intent of the committee meeting was to provide information on a system he believes will make Mobile less safe, while boosting revenue for those investing in the emerging Alabama industry.
“I’d like to have an honest discussion and debate,” said Jones, who argues that not enough information has been provided over how the industry will be monitored once the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission – the organization charged with implementing the state’s medical marijuana program – rolls it out in June 2023.
“Look at what happened today,” Jones continued. “No one asked any hard questions. I think minds are made up.”
Jones said he anticipates the council voting on the ordinance on December 13.
On Monday, the committee meeting that Jones led featured two highlights: A back-and-forth between himself and Daniel Autrey, assistant director for the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission; and testimony from Christine Carr, a Birmingham area certified nurse anesthetist.
Carr, who has advised the conservative Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP) in urging Alabamians to oppose medical marijuana, argued that bringing the industry into Alabama will lead to a rise of so-called “pot houses” where people afflicted with ailments can receive a multiple prescriptions to use marijuana.
The new Alabama 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 other things.
It prohibits marijuana from being smoked, vaped, or covered in sugar or put into food and sold as a raw plant. The new law says that the product can be provided via a tablet, capsules, transdermal patches, and oils for use in an inhaler. The state cannabis commission established peach as the “one universal flavor” for jelly cubes and lozenges that will be part of the new program when it rolls out next summer.
Carr urged Mobile city officials to slow down and consider what she said were ramifications of allowing a dispensary into the city.
“For the sake of our future, let’s get this right,” she said.
Councilman Joel Daves said he believes the Alabama law was already “carefully considered” and developed by state lawmakers who established the program during the 2021 legislative session.
“I don’t think anyone would claim the Alabama Legislature is a hot bed for progressive thought,” said Councilman Joel Daves. “I would think this legislation was very carefully considered by the Alabama Legislature and (Republican) Governor (Kay) Ivey before she signed it.”
Most cities that are approving ordinances, do so with limited debate. Carr, herself, spoke out against medical marijuana in Montgomery while the bill was initially up for debate in 2021.
According to the state cannabis commission, 28 cities have adopted ordinances and six counties have approved resolutions permitting a medical marijuana dispensary within their jurisdictions. A city or county government must approve an ordinance or a resolution in order to host a dispensary.
Jones said he doesn’t like how the state has put the cities in a position to determine whether to host a dispensary.
“We got to be the enforcement arm with our police and sheriffs who are already taxed,” said Jones, referring to a rise in crime-related matters local law enforcement are confronting. “Where are the regulatory processes for these stores? Where are those checks and balances?”
Few cities have opposed ordinances. Fairhope was the most recent, voting 5-1 in late October to not allow for a medical marijuana dispensary after council members said they were inundated with emails from opponents.
Carr said it was “really sad” that most city councils were approving ordinances without having “robust debates, expert panels and public hearings.”
“We are already seeing marijuana influencing your elected officials as most have passed these ordinances without inviting public debate at all,” she said.
There is no guarantee that a medical marijuana operation will come to Mobile.
Jones said he anticipates an application being approved in Mobile because of the interest from investors who are committed to establishing operations within coastal Alabama.
Alabama state law caps the number of dispensaries at 37 statewide. As of Friday, the state had received 239 requests for applications to operate a dispensary in Alabama. The deadline for applications to be submitted is December 30.
“It’s coming and it’s a springboard for recreational use,” he said.
Alabama was the 37th state to approve medical marijuana in the spring of 2021. Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug – like heroin and LSD — under federal law, though 21 states allow for its recreational use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Voters, earlier this month, approved recreational adult-use of marijuana in Missouri and Maryland, but declined to do so on ballot initiatives in Arkansas and North and South Dakota.
A large number of Americans believe marijuana should be legalized to some degree. A Pew Research poll taken last year showed that 60% of those polled believe it should be legalized for both medical and recreational use.