Alabama Regulators Set Timeline For Medical Cannabis Rollout

Officials expect eligible patients in Alabama to get their medical weed cards by this time next year.

Prospective medical cannabis patients in Alabama received some clarity this week on when they can expect to receive the newly legal treatment in the state.

John McMillan, the director of the state’s Medical Cannabis Commission, told local news outlet WIAT that the commission “is on pace to start accepting applications for dispensary licenses by September, with regulations for the program to be made public this summer.”

“From there, it’s a three-and-a-half, four-month process of advertising, hearings and things that go into the, I call it, the state’s clumsiness to get things done,” McMillan said, as quoted by WIAT.

Following that timeline, the news station said that McMillan “expects patients could get a cannabis card by spring 2023.”

“There’s a lot of good that can come from this, in having a safe, secure, high-quality medication for folks instead of sending them out on the streets to operate in the black market,” McMillan said, according to WIAT.

Alabama legalized medical cannabis last May, when Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill making it the 36th state to authorize and regulate the treatment.

“This is certainly a sensitive and emotional issue and something that is continually being studied,” Ivey said in a statement at the time. “On the state level, we have had a study group that has looked closely at this issue, and I am interested in the potential good medical cannabis can have for those with chronic illnesses or what it can do to improve the quality of life of those in their final days.”

In November, the Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners drafted rules over how and when physicians in the state may offer cannabis as a treatment to patients. The board advised that doctors recommend cannabis so long as there is documentation confirming “that conventional medical treatment or therapy has failed unless current medical treatment indicates that use of medical cannabis is the standard of care,” and for the following qualifying conditions: autism spectrum disorder; cancer-related cachexia, nausea or vomiting, weight loss, or chronic pain; Crohn’s disease; depression; epilepsy or a condition causing seizures; HIV/AIDS-related nausea or weight loss; panic disorder; Parkinson’s disease; persistent nausea that is not significantly responsive to traditional treatment, except for nausea related to pregnancy, cannabis-induced cyclical vomiting syndrome or cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome; post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); sickle cell anemia; spasticity associated with a motor neuron disease including Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS); spasticity associated with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) or a spinal cord injury; terminal illness; and Tourette’s Syndrome.

But the rollout has not been without some setbacks and delays. In October, the state Medical Cannabis Commission said that 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,” the Montgomery Advertiser reported at the time.

The newspaper reported that “Rex Vaughn, the vice-chair of the commission, said the group needed to address other duties, including rulemaking and physician training,” and that “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, as quoted by the Montgomery Advertiser. “We could lose what we’ve got.”

Meanwhile, some Alabama lawmakers appear ready to go even further with cannabis policy reform. Last month a committee in the state Senate approved legislation that would decriminalize small amounts of pot in the state.

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