Medical marijuana isn’t likely to become legal in Alabama this year, but investors appear to be getting ready for the day they can sell pot legally here.
Eight businesses with “marijuana” or “cannabis” in the name have registered with the Alabama Secretary of State’s office this year. That includes a business called Alabama Marijuana, LLC, registered in Anniston on May 13.
Charles Turner, the Anniston lawyer who filed Alabama Marijuana’s paperwork, said he did so on behalf of a group of in-state investors who wanted to keep their identities secret for now.
“I think marijuana is stigmatized, and they don’t want to assume the burden of the stigma unnecessarily,” Turner said.
Earlier this month, Alabama appeared to be well on its way to becoming a medical-marijuana state. The Alabama Senate on May 9 voted 17-6 in favor of a bill to legalize the drug for medical purposes, in what seemed to be a stunning turnaround for a state that has historically been strongly opposed to legalization. House Rules Chairman Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, said the bill wouldn’t get a vote in the House, but on Wednesday a substitute bill emerged that would create a state commission to regulate medical marijuana. It will get a public hearing and committee vote on Tuesday.
Even a chance of legalization seems to have convinced marijuana businesses that now is the time to act. Since February, the state has seen the creation — at least on paper — of the American Cannabis Company, Red Mountain Cannabis, Vice Cannabis company and other businesses incorporated within the state.
Attempts to reach those businesses were unsuccessful.
Although there is still some reluctance to associate with marijuana, the economic opportunity is attracting interest from local investors along with big name companies, such as Altria, the makers of Marlboro cigarettes. Last year the tobacco giant invested $1.8 billion for a 45 percent stake in the Canadian cannabis company Cronos Group.
“I think medical marijuana would be a great area to practice in,” Turner said.
Rep. Mike Ball, R-Huntsville, said he supported the bill because of the drug’s ability to treat conditions such as epilepsy.
Ball said he was originally skeptical of the legalization of marijuana for any reason. But when a constituent asked him to support a measure that would allow the sale of CBD oil, a non-intoxicating compound found in marijuana, he did more research.
He came across the story of Carly Chandler, an infant suffering from seizures due to epilepsy, and learned there were medical properties of marijuana that could help with her condition. Carly’s Law, passed in 2014, allows children with a debilitating epileptic condition to be treated with CBD oil at the University of Alabama in Birmingham’s Department of Neurology. The law was a direct response to Chandler’s situation.
CBD oil can reduce the severity of seizures in epileptics, as well as decrease the number of seizures they have.
Ball described his change of heart on medical marijuana as “very spiritual.”
The growing movement to legalize marijuana in the United States has seen 33 states legalize medicinal use and 10 states legalize recreational use, as well as the District of Columbia.
Jeffrey Miron, an economist at Harvard University and the Cato Institute, a public policy research organization, said the economic effects of legalizing medical marijuana may not be significant, at least in the beginning.
“The main effect is people who want to smoke will be able to with less hassle,” Miron said.
In the long run there may be effects on GDP or employment, as marijuana purchases would bring in tax revenue for the state and federal governments.
However, since the bill failed there is no telling how long it will be until dispensaries open in Alabama.
“It’d be a crying shame to not be heard,” said Ball. “Every year we delay is another year people don’t get the benefit.”
The amount of time it could take to put regulations in place is unclear. Ball cited Arkansas as a state where medical marijuana was legalized. He said it took nearly a year and a half to come up with all the rules for commercial sales.
New companies like Alabama Marijuana LLC will not open for business anytime soon. Even if medical marijuana is legalized in the future, it may take months if not years to put the regulatory framework in place.
“Every aspect of medical marijuana would be regulated,” according to Turner.