Ordinance would allow medical pot to be grown, dispensed in Priceville
By Bayne Hughes
PRICEVILLE — The Town Council recently passed an ordinance allowing medical marijuana to be grown and sold in Priceville, but despite an approaching state deadline, no businesses have announced plans to do so.
The council voted unanimously to allow not only medical marijuana dispensaries but also integrated facilities that grow, process and dispense marijuana.
The Priceville ordinance goes a step further than medical marijuana ordinances passed recently in Decatur and Athens, which only authorize dispensaries.
“We don’t have any (businesses expressing an) interest, although we would like the tax revenue,” Mayor Sam Heflin said. “I don’t think anyone is ever coming to Priceville, but this is a way to protect ourselves and make sure we’re ready in case someone does decide they want to open a business here.”
Councilman Melvin Duran III said the main reason he likes the ordinance “is we can control where it goes, although I’m not sure anyone will ever look at little Priceville with the limited number of businesses the state is approving.”
Heflin said Priceville’s approved ordinance sets the zoning so it allows the integrated facilities only in the town’s light-industry district or near a pharmacy in a commercial district. The only light-industry district is off Bethel Road and the town’s only pharmacy is on Alabama 67.
Heflin and Duran said they received no public opposition prior to the ordinance’s Nov. 28 approval.
Alabama was the 37th state to approve medical marijuana when it adopted a law last year. The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission may award up to 37 dispensary licenses in the state, 12 cultivator licenses, four processor licenses, five integrated facility licenses and an unspecified number of secure transport and state testing laboratory licenses.
However, there is hope that the commission could expand the number of licenses and where they might be located after it sees the number of applications it receives prior to the Dec. 30 deadline, said Joey Robertson, president and partner of Wagon Trail Med-Serv, a hemp farm in Hanceville.
According to the Medical Cannabis Commission, 133 entities have requested applications to operate an integrated facility and 239 have requested applications to operate dispensaries. The deadline for them to submit the applications is Dec. 30.
Each application will include at least five locations for dispensaries as part of the business plan. Robertson has identified five locations in five north Alabama counties, including one in Decatur.
“I think because of the limited amount of approved ordinances the (Medical Cannabis Commission) may be open to relocation to other areas once the licenses are awarded in June,” Robertson said.
Robertson said the period between January and June “is a long time,” so the Commission may need to be flexible on the approved locations to avoid them being concentrated in some areas of the state, with other parts of the state left out.
Priceville is a better location for an integrated facility than a dispensary because it’s so rural, Robertson said.
“It’s more ideal for an integrated facility because it’s not in the middle of a big city,” Robertson said.
When Decatur approved its medical marijuana dispensaries ordinance Dec. 6, Council President Jacob Ladner cast the lone vote against it. His main reasons were that medical marijuana is not legal under federal law, his concern that there aren’t enough studies yet on the health impacts of the drug, and his fear that medical marijuana could lead to legalization of recreational marijuana.
Under federal law marijuana is an illegal Schedule 1 drug — like LSD or heroin — but federal enforcement has eroded since about 2013, clearing the way for states to legalize marijuana possession and sale.
Heflin said he views medical marijuana as a drug that will be tightly regulated by the state in the same way that pharmacies are regulated.
“It’s a medical decision made by a doctor,” Heflin said.
He pointed out that the state will also tightly regulate security at the integrated facilities, including requiring the cultivation to be entirely indoors.