By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama’s Medical Marijuana Commission gathered for the first time Thursday for an organizational meeting as it begins the process of rolling out medical marijuana policies in the state.
The 14-member panel voted to make Steven Stokes, a Dothan radiation oncologist, chair of the commission.
Stokes told Alabama Daily News that the coming months will be a busy time for the commission as it works to set up the state’s “seed to sale” regulatory practices for medical marijuana.
“Today wasn’t about getting into the nitty gritty but there is a lot of stuff that has to get done,” Stokes said.
The next step is to hire an executive director who will oversee all of Alabama’s medical cannabis operations, which Stokes said he hopes to start discussing in the next meeting on Aug. 25.
Though she isn’t on the commission, Gov. Kay Ivey attended Thursday’s meeting and told members they had their work cut out for them.
“It will be up to you, those who have been appointed by many elected leaders around the state, to establish a criteria for medical cannabis production in Alabama,” Ivey said. “And I can’t urge you strongly enough to keep transparency and efficacy foremost in your mind. Transparency and efficacy are critically important for this endeavor.”
The new state law, enacted in May, allows people with qualifying medical conditions to purchase medical marijuana with the recommendation of a doctor. Conditions include cancer, a terminal illness, depression, epilepsy, panic disorder and chronic pain. Allowable forms of marijuana include pills, skin patches and creams but not smoking or vaping products.
Stokes, who himself has prescribed medical cannabis to his cancer patients to help with pain and weight loss
problems, said he believes the product will bring much needed relief to those suffering.
“It provides relief when what we’re doing is not working,” Stokes said.
Created by the new law, the commission is made up of various licensed physicians, pharmacists, agricultural experts and law enforcement professionals who can lend their experience to determining the proper course for legal medical marijuana in the state.
The commission can start taking licensee applications for cultivators, integrated facilities and processors starting Sept. 1, 2022.
The new law allows for a maximum of 12 cultivator licenses, 4 processor licenses, and 5 integrated facility licenses, or facilities that will grow, process and distribute the product all in one place.
The commission is also required to present a report to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2022 that gives an update on the progress towards implementing the law and makes recommendations on needed changes for successful implementation of medical cannabis.
Stokes said the new law requires there have to be certified physicians who can prescribe medical cannabis in Alabama by Jan. 1, 2022.
“I hope we’ll have enough primary care physicians in Alabama who will be interested in doing this,” Stokes said. “If nothing else it’s just a service to the community.”
The next meeting for the commission is scheduled for Aug. 25 and there will be subsequent meetings in the months to come.