Alabama Medical Marijuana Shows That Even Though Cannabis is Legal, It’s Not Available

Alabama medical marijuana became a reality when lawmakers approved it in May 2021 – at least, on paper. What few could have realized at the time is that almost three years later, Alabama residents still would not have access to medical cannabis, even if their doctor recommended it. The state still has not issued licenses to medical dispensaries.

Other states have experienced slow rollouts – notably Maine and New York – but those delays involved legal recreational cannabis. Alabama’s law makes only medical marijuana legal, and only if used in certain circumstances. Still, the state government has been held up by bureaucratic mistakes and delays, as well as legal issues.

To move the process forward, the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission voted recently to move forward in issuing licenses despite the ongoing lawsuits against the state working their way through the court system. The vote was seen as an important signal to the cannabis industry that unless stopped by the courts, the state is moving forward on issuing licenses, according to the Associated Press.

Law Making Alabama Medical Marijuana Legal is Narrowly Focused

The law approved in May 2021 is fairly narrow in its scope, especially when considering that more than half the country now lives in a state where both recreational and medical marijuana are legal. The Alabama law allows medical marijuana use for 15 conditions, including cancer, chronic pain, depression and Parkinson’s disease. Patients would have to apply for a medical cannabis card from licensed dispensers.

According to the provisions of the laws, smoking cannabis and cannabis edibles are banned from use. The law allows people to consume cannabis only in tablets, capsules and gummies, and also allows cannabis oils, gels, creams, suppositories, transdermal patches and inhalable oils or liquids.

In an interesting twist, state lawmakers decided to allow only peach-flavored gummies. That’s because, according to Brian Lyman, editor of Alabama Reflector, the lawmakers wanted to take a step to ensure children would not want to eat the gummies. Eventually, state officials chose peach as the only flavor.

Alabama Medical Marijuana Stymied by Delays, Lawsuits

The Alabama Medical Marijuana Commission previously granted licenses to over 20 companies to spearhead the cultivation, processing and distribution of medical marijuana across the state. Per commission regulations, licenses hinge on the payment of requisite fees.

But the system remains mired in legal entanglements. Several companies have contested the legitimacy of the selection process and sought injunctive relief to stop issuance of licenses. In a recent development, Montgomery Circuit Judge James Anderson presided over a hearing regarding the injunction plea, withholding an immediate verdict.

Furthermore, 26 companies have petitioned for hearings with the commission following the rejection of their license applications, adding another layer of complexity to an already convoluted situation.
Adding to the issue are the state’s own missteps. State officials did not start accepting applications until late 2022, but licenses awarded in June 2023 were voided due to concerns about scoring inconsistencies, according to Marijuana Moment. The state later rescinded other awards in August after a lawsuit was filed over Open Meetings Act violations.

Commissioners hope the recent vote will show the state is moving forward with their agenda, dismissing calls to halt license awards amid persistent legal wrangling and appeals from disappointed contenders.

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