The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission said Thursday it would not push to make licenses for cultivation and distribution of medical cannabis available earlier, meaning medical cannabis will not be available in Alabama before 2023.
Rex Vaughn, the vice-chair of the commission, said the group needed to address other duties, including rulemaking and physician training. Vaughn also expressed concerns that further legislative action — required to move the dates — could expose the medical cannabis law to attempts to weaken it.
“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,” Vaughn said. “We could lose what we’ve got.”
The Legislature approved the medical cannabis bill in May after an often-emotional two-day debate in the House of Representatives, which had stymied prior attempts to bring medical cannabis to the state. Gov. Kay Ivey signed the legislation that same month.
The law allows the commission to accept applications for licenses to grow or distribute medical marijuana on Sept. 1, 2022. Before that date, the law directs the commission to create a central database to register patients.
Supporters of the bill had hoped to see medical marijuana available by the fall of 2022. But the September date makes it unlikely that any cannabis could be grown, processed and ready for transport before 2023. The commission must make decisions on license applications within 60 days, meaning the earliest a license could be issued would be Oct. 31, 2022.
“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 Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, said after the Thursday meeting.
At an August meeting, the commission considered asking the legislature to amend the law to move the date up. Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, the sponsor of the legislation, said Friday that he supported a program implemented in a “thoughtful and correct” manner.
“I’m good with their decisions,” he said. “It’s the law. I’m here to help them, and if they need something, great. If not, I’m going to watch what they do.”
Once available, medical cannabis will be available to treat at least 16 different conditions, including cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain. Cannabis would be available as tablets, capsules, gummies, lozenges, topical oils, suppositories or transdermal patches. Patients could also consume cannabis in nebulizers or as vaporized oil. The law forbids smoking or vaping medical cannabis, or baking it into food.
Patients would have to get approval from a physician licensed to dispense medical cannabis. The patient would also have to pay for a registration card costing up to $65 a year.
The law also forbids the recreational use of marijuana.