Alabama is set to launch its medical marijuana industry later this year, with up to 17 companies expected to receive licenses to grow and process cannabis for patients in the state.
According to Alabama Media Group, the state’s Medical Cannabis Commission said it plans to issue licenses to companies to grow plants in enclosed facilities with 24/7 video monitoring and high security.
It is anticipated that it will take about 14 weeks for the plants to be ready for processing into pills, capsules, gelatinous cubes, oils, patches, and other products, which could be available in state-licensed dispensaries by the holiday season if things go well.
The nascent Southern program permits the use of medical marijuana for more than a dozen conditions, including cancer-related pain, Crohn’s disease, depression, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS-related nausea or weight loss, post-traumatic stress disorder, and conditions causing chronic or intractable pain.
However, state rules, for now, dictate that no raw plant materials or products for smoking or eating will be allowed.
The commission announced last week that it is reviewing 90 applicants for licenses from companies that want to cultivate, transport, process, test, and dispense medical cannabis. Licenses will be awarded in June, with redacted applications available for public comments.
Applicants that do not receive a license can appeal that decision to the commission. If that appeal fails, they can take the matter to court.
Regulators in the state’s agriculture department will inspect the cultivating facilities at least twice a year, according to the framework, and a state testing lab will test samples at least four times a year for pesticides and other hazards.
Cultivators will need a large initial investment and have a small margin for error, such as crop failure. The state requires documentation that proves any leftover or unused plant material was destroyed.
“They will have the ultimate in a controlled environment in how they’re producing these marijuana plants,” commission board member Rex Vaughn told AL.com.
“They really cannot afford any less. They will have to control every aspect in the production part of it to make sure that they’re timely,” and that the tested THC content in the plant is consistent come harvest time.
“It will be intense,” Vaughn added. “I would not want to do it.”
Criminal background checks will be required for employees, and the law requires that the majority owners of the licensed companies have lived in Alabama for at least 15 continuous years before the application date.
The licenses available include cultivators, processors, dispensaries, secure transporters, and state testing labs. There can be up to 12 cultivation licenses issued, and the law requires that the plants be grown in containers as opposed to in the ground.
The state’s agriculture commissioner told the outlet that the agency’s role would be mostly limited to making sure the cultivators follow the rules to secure their facilities, such as video cameras and secured entrances.
Vaughn and AMCC’s director have different estimates for when the products will be available, with one suggesting that products could be available to eligible patients in Alabama dispensaries by as early as October or November 2023, and the other suggesting early next year, as legal challenges could disrupt the timeline.
Municipalities must choose to opt into the program, meaning that products have to be sold in licensed dispensaries in cities and counties that have authorized them with a resolution or ordinance.