Jennifer Boozer, owner of CannaBama in downtown Mobile, feels like she’s been given the once-over a few times by those looking to do business in the state when the application process for medical cannabis opens up.
“I’ve been vetted by a few people,” she said. “At least it feels like it. It feels like a really creepy date. People are attracted to the visibility of my brand.”
The CBD shop on St. Francis Street was open long before the legislature finally passed a law legalizing cannabis for medical use, and Boozer wants to remain the self-proclaimed “Cannabis Queen of Alabama,” despite slight anxiety over what the rules and regulations for dispensaries will be.
For instance, Boozer doesn’t know if she’ll have to partner with a farm to become properly licensed or not.
“I don’t grow and I don’t process,” she said. “I might have to partner with someone who grows and processes.”
Answers to some of Boozer’s questions could be coming in the form of regulations set by the newly established Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC).
Regulations for retailers, cultivators and others have still not been announced. Members of the commission hope to begin taking applications in September 2022.
“That’s our goal,” AMCC attorney Daniel Archer said. “It’s going to be a long lift, but that’s our goal.”
The commission is looking at other states’ approaches to medical cannabis as it discusses rules and regulations for growers and retailers, Archer said. The commission hopes to have a “substantive” plan by mid-March.
“We want to be narrow and specific enough so we’re providing adequate safety to the public, but we don’t want to be so lenient to allow it to be the Wild West,” Archer said. “We want to be somewhere right in the middle.”
To achieve the September goal, the commission would need to have the rules ready to submit to the Legislative Services Division by the middle of May, AMCC Chairman Dr. Steven Stokes said.
“We feel reasonably good we’ll make the September deadline,” he said.
When the regulations are completed, the commission will begin giving out up to 12 cultivator licenses, five dispensary licenses for up to 32 total dispensaries in the state, and up to five integrated licenses, which would allow a firm to cultivate and dispense the cannabis all in one.
Only one dispensary will be allowed per county unless an applicant can prove there is a need for more and, per the law, a city or county could bar dispensaries from opening.
“As long as we’ve got the mayor we have and the sheriff, I don’t think I have anything to worry about,” Boozer said. However, Sheriff Sam Cochran recently announced he would not seek reelection. Mayor Sandy Stimpson is in the first year of a new four-year term.
While guidelines for retailers, processors and others who will distribute the drug to patients are still being ironed out, the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners has released draft regulations for doctors looking to prescribe medical cannabis in the state. Matt Hart, an attorney for the medical examiners, said the group first looked at the stipulations in the actual law signed by Gov. Kay Ivey last year. For aspects not specifically enumerated in the legislation, Hart said the group looked to states with medical cannabis laws already on the books.
“For other aspects, we looked at a lot of the states that had already done it,” he said. “We looked at Southeast states that had already implemented the program. Keep in mind, we wanted to allow it, but we wanted it very well regulated.”
Among other standard medical licensure, doctors wishing to prescribe medical cannabis to patients must also complete a four-hour course related to medical cannabis and pass a related exam, according to the draft regulations.
Boozer and others have criticized the four-hour course as not enough. She called the proposal “lunacy.”
“Does anybody realize how insultingly stupid that is?” Boozer asked. “I studied for nine months before I opened my doors. It’s insulting to the effort of advocates and it’s insulting to the patients who will rely on cannabis.”
The application for the potential doctors comes with a $300 nonrefundable fee paid to the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners. Once an application process has started, a physician has 90 days to complete it or the application will be closed. According to the draft proposal, AMCC must first license at least one dispensary, one processor, a cultivator and a secure transporter.
Physicians interested in prescribing medical cannabis must also have been a practicing physician for at least three years, excluding an internship, residency, fellowship or other supervised training program. Interested physicians must also be active users of the Alabama Medical Cannabis Patient Registry System.
The comment period recently closed on the draft regulations, Hart said, and now the staff will review them and forward them to the board, which could vote on the regulations as early as February.
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