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Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission approves rules for medical marijuana

The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission Thursday approved rules for the licensing and regulation of medical marijuana in the state, getting Alabama closer to a legal industry for the substance.

The rules, running to 171 pages and approved after months of development and public input, were approved by voice vote. Dr. Jerzy Szaflarski, a UAB professor and member of the commission, abstained from the vote, saying commission members had only 24 hours to review the proposed rules.

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Prior to the vote, Daniel Autrey, the assistant director of the commission, said the rules would be an “evolving document.”

“I suppose maybe the Bible is perfect and without error,” he said. “But this document, I can tell you, it is not without error, and we will find out as we go along. But we’ve done the best we can do, and I am proud of what we’ve put together.”

The vote will allow the commission to send out license applications in late October.

The state’s medical cannabis law, passed in 2021, authorizes the cultivation and distribution of medical cannabis for 16 different conditions, including cancer, depression, PTSD, sickle-cell anemia, chronic pain and terminal illness. People interested in using medical cannabis will need to get certified by a physician, then purchase a medical cannabis card, which can cost no more than $65.

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Cannabis will be limited to gels, gelatins, tablets, oils, creams, suppositories, or inhalable oils or liquids. The law bans smoking marijuana or consuming it in edible forms.

The commission will offer up to 12 licenses to grow medical cannabis; up to four licenses for processing it; up to four for distribution. The state will also offer five licenses for “integrated facilities,” which will combine all three services with transportation. There will be no restriction on licenses to transport or test medical cannabis.

The cannabis will have to be grown in pots or raised beds in secure facilities, which could push costs up significantly: Estimates of the cost of integrated facilities go as high as $20 million.

Those security requirements were a major point of discussion at a July 14 meeting of the commission. Draft rules included requirements for three-inch steel doors on cannabis facilities, which one speaker said did not exist. The draft rules also would have required at least two security guards at cannabis facilities 24/7, which could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

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The rules as approved require facilities to have at least one security guard during business hours, and replace the steel door requirement with reinforced doors.

Will Webster, an attorney who drafted the rules, said during the meeting that the commission had to “strike a balance between the need, as expressed in the act, for security, and then also the need to create a product for the people of Alabama that is not so expensive that they can’t afford it.”

“We’ve lowered what we considered at first to be something that would be really helpful in keeping things in tight security,” he said. “But I think we’ve learned from the comments that that’s not necessarily the experience across the nation, that security can be handled in other ways. That, too, was something that we had a sharp learning curve on.”

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The new rules also differentiate between production batches and harvest batches, and eliminated a requirement that cannabis dispensaries be in stand-alone buildings.

Benjamin Bramlett, a CBD business owner who plans to apply for an integrated facility license, after the meeting said he was pleased with the changes.

“Your normal business hours are going to be generally eight hours,” he said. “That’s definitely going to reduce the cost.”

The commission will begin soliciting interest in license applications on Sept. 1. The applications themselves are expected to go out on Oct. 24 and be due by Dec. 30. Actual licenses will probably not be awarded until June. Medical cannabis is not expected to be available to Alabamians until late 2023, at the earliest.

Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission approves rules for medical marijuana

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