Medical Marijuana in Alabama May Not be Available as Soon as We Thought
The good news for everyone who is eagerly waiting to get an Alabama Marijuana Card is that the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission’s (AMCC) work has been going smoothly so far. The bad news is that it isn’t going as smoothly as we thought it would just a couple of weeks ago!
Earlier this month, the AMCC announced they were considering asking the state legislature to move up the availability of cultivator licenses. The current date established in SB 46, the state’s medical marijuana law, is September 2022. But if crops aren’t in the ground until after that date, then there won’t be any products available to patients until 2023.
Now, however, those plans have been scrapped, meaning we’ve got more than a year to wait before medical marijuana hits dispensary shelves in the Yellowhammer State.
AMCC Chairman Thought Moving Up Cultivation Date was Possible
Just two weeks ago, Dr. Steven Stokes, the Chairman of the AMCC, had told WBHM, Birmingham’s NPR affiliate, he was confident that the AMCC would be able to persuade the legislature to move up the planting timeline. “They just didn’t think that the commission, our commission would move as fast as we’ve moved. We’ve gotten organized,” he said.
Alabama Farmers Were Excited at the Thought of a New Cultivation Timeline
Farmers to whom WBHM spoke were excited at the possibility of starting their cannabis planting sooner than they’d expected.
Charlie Decelle, of Etowah County, told WBHM that he was ready to chuck the hemp that his company, Dry Creek Hemp, has been growing for three years now.
“We’re excited, but we’re not getting too excited. We’re keeping our eyes on the road in front of us and just focusing on hemp at the moment,” he said. “But we are ready. I mean, we could throw these hemp plants out and swap them out in a heartbeat.”
Researchers Were Also Ready for Accelerated Cannabis Cultivation
“The earlier we start, the more we can figure out best management practices to have a successful crop,” Katelyn Kesheimer, a researcher at Auburn University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, told WBHM.
Kesheimer told the station that Alabama’s delayed entry into the world of medical marijuana means farmers and researchers will have to play catch up when it comes to figuring out best practices for growing marijuana in the Yellowhammer
“It’s hot, it’s humid. We got a long growing season, so things do thrive, but we need to find that right mix of genetics,” said Kesheimer. “Currently a lot of the cannabis genetics are coming out of Canada or the Pacific Northwest or overseas, and we need to test them here in Alabama again.”
Kesheimer told WBHM that an accelerated schedule for cultivation would allow her more time to better serve the farmers and patients of Alabama.
“As a scientist, I just want to make sure that we’re utilizing the best science and research-based information, especially since these plants will be ingested by people who have ailments that can benefit from marijuana,” she said.
Not All Farmers Supported a New Cultivation Timeline
But not everyone who would be impacted by a changed planting schedule was as encouraged as Decelle and Kesheimer were by the prospect.
Anniston-based hemp farmer Jon Hegeman told WBHM that he feared what would happen if the legislature were asked to renew deliberations over the contents of SB 46.
“Speeding up the timeline is not going to get us anywhere but create a disaster,” he said.
In particular, Hegeman, who owns and operates Greenway Plants, said he feared that if legislators changed one part of the law, that they may be tempted to revisit other aspects, such as the requirement that licensed cultivators must have lived in Alabama for at least fifteen years.
Chairman Stokes was Unconcerned About the Potential for Other Changes to the Law
“I hope that’s not going to happen,” Dr. Stokes told WBHM of Hegeman’s concern. “I want this to benefit the farmers of Alabama and the patients of Alabama.”
And for that reason, Stokes and other proponents of the accelerated cultivation schedule were hoping to convince the state legislature to revisit SB 46 during a recent special session dedicated to prison reform. When that opportunity passed, they hoped it would be brought up during a planned upcoming special session about redistricting, because otherwise any changes to SB 46 would have to wait until the 2022 legislative session.
And we now know that the law will indeed remain unchanged until at least then, when it will almost certainly be too late to move up the planting schedule.
So Why Does Alabama Have to Wait Even Longer for Medical Marijuana?
Despite enthusiasm from farmers, researchers, patients, and some members of the AMCC, the Commission announced on October 14 that they would not be pursuing an accelerated cultivation schedule, a mere two weeks after Dr. Stokes had said he thought it was a possibility.
Some AMCC Members Shared Concerns About Opening a Can of Legislative Worms
Like Hegeman, the hemp farmer who feared what changing one aspect of SB 46 might mean for other aspects of the law, some on the AMCC thought it was best to leave the law as it is rather than risk the law possibly being weakened by opening it up to changes.
“At this point in time, we decided not to ask the Legislature to go back into digging up a legislative bill and opening it back up,” Rex Vaughn, the vice-chair of the Commission, told the Montgomery Advertiser. “We could lose what we’ve got.”
Vaughn also said the Commission had more pressing concerns to address, such as finalizing the aspects of Alabama’s medical marijuana market that SB 46 left unformed.
AMCC Concluded There Wasn’t Enough Time for the Change
Vaughn, a farmer from Madison, had originally been the most vocal proponent of an accelerated cultivation timeline, also said that the march of time was against an accelerated cultivation timeline, which was also the conclusion to which the AMCC as a whole came.
“If you start looking at the timelines for what it’s going to take to get rules and regulations approved, and the growth cycle and the 60 days that people have to get in business after they get the license, it starts adding up,” John McMillian, the executive director of the AMCC, told the Advertiser after the October 1 meeting.
Look on the Bright Side, Alabama: Medical Marijuana is on the Way
Yes, Alabama has waited long enough for medical marijuana.
And yes, it’s disheartening to get this news so quickly after the exciting thought of cutting into that wait time was discussed by the AMCC.
But there are still fourteen states with no medical marijuana laws on the horizon, and there are plenty of patients in those states who would be thrilled to know that they only had to wait until 2023 before getting the relief they’ve been waiting for.
The AMCC’s chairman, Dr. Stokes, regularly prescribes medical marijuana to patients he treats in Florida. And Vaughn enthusiastically supported an accelerated timeline before he concluded that there just wasn’t enough time to get it done. And the AMCC’s executive director, McMillan, didn’t opt to stick with the current timeline because of some poppycock excuse about fearing what medical marijuana would do to the state’s crime rates, but because he didn’t think it was feasible.
The point is that even though this news stinks, and even though it stinks that it took us so long to get a medical marijuana law in Alabama, let’s focus on the good news. We have an AMCC that consists of at least a few vocal medical marijuana supporters who appear to be trying to make decisions based on what would be best and most feasible for the state, not based on outdated myths and stigmas surrounding marijuana. And they’re ahead of schedule on creating the state’s medical marijuana market!
And we have the sure knowledge that medical marijuana will be here in 2023, something the fourteen states without medical marijuana laws would love to have.
You Don’t Have to Wait for 2023 to Get Ready for Medical Marijuana!
Yes, Alabama, you’ll have to wait until 2023 to get the relief that only medical cannabis can offer, but you don’t have to wait a minute longer to get ready for that relief!
Reserve a medical marijuana evaluation online today, and we’ll schedule an appointment for you with one of our skilled, compassionate doctors just as soon as Alabama’s medical marijuana market is open!
You’ll meet with your doctor virtually using your computer or smartphone for a telemedicine appointment. The two of you will discuss your condition and whether medical marijuana might be right for you - all without leaving your home! And you’ll even save $25 off the cost of your evaluation!
Doctors Who Care. Relief You Can Trust.
Helping everyone achieve wellness safely and conveniently through increased access to medical marijuana. Our focus on education, inclusion, and acceptance will reduce stigma for our patients by providing equal access to timely information and compassionate care.
If you have any questions, call us at 833-781-5633, or simply reserve a medical marijuana evaluation to start getting relief you can trust today!
And don’t forget to check out Alabama Marijuana Card’s Blog to keep up to date on the latest medical marijuana news, tips, and information.