Alabama wants to speed up the process of medical cannabis cultivation: potential benefits and concerns

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

On May 17, 2021, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey inked her signature on a chunk of legislation that resulted in medical cannabis being legalized across the state. Now that medical cannabis is legal in the State of Alabama, many farmers are keen to start planting their crops. 

Unfortunately, one problem remains: cannabis cultivation licenses won’t be made available until September 2022. Because of the delay in issuing licenses, patients may be forced to wait until 2023 to have a license bestowed upon them.

The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission has announced that it wants to speed up the licensing process, so that farmers can plant seeds earlier. However, while some people are excited at the prospect of cultivation being welcomed sooner than initially planned, others are worried that things could go horribly wrong.

Existing hemp farmers will likely be growing cannabis in Alabama

Hemp and cannabis are two botanical classes of Cannabis sativa cultivars. Although they grow with unique cannabinoid potencies, they are both the same species of plant. However, cannabis typically grows with a higher concentration of the high-inducing psychoactive compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). 

In terms of their uses, hemp is favored for its suitability to make textiles, detergents, cosmetics, biofuel and CBD (cannabidiol), whereas THC-rich cannabis is favored among recreational consumers who wish to be catapulted to mind-altering states of awareness. 

Farmers in Alabama must ensure that the THC content of their hemp does not exceed 0.3 percent; samples should be sent to the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries for thorough testing before the product is sold and consumed.

Since hemp and cannabis are incredibly similar plants, farmers who intend on growing cannabis in Alabama will likely be in the same group of cultivators who are presently growing hemp. Licenses can be obtained with a $2,500 non-refundable application fee, but just 12 will be issued across the state. 

It should be noted that the regulations will be more strict for cannabis than they are for hemp, meaning that the most experienced farmers stand a better chance of obtaining a license to grow cannabis in Alabama.

Finding the right mix of genetics and growing environment for cannabis in Alabama

Since Alabama lags far behind other states with medical cannabis markets, it goes without saying that farmers have lost out on opportunities to learn best growing practices in alignment with the state’s ever-changing cannabis climate.

This is something that Katelyn Kesheimer agrees with. She is a researcher at Auburn University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. During a discussion with reporters, she expressed her excitement at the prospect of starting early and catching up with previously-missed opportunities to compete in the nation’s legal cannabis market.

“The earlier we start, the more we can figure out best management practices to have a successful crop,” said Kesheimer, adding that, “It’s hot, it’s humid. We got a long growing season, so things do thrive, but we need to find the right mix of genetics.”

She noted that a great deal of the cannabis genetics are “coming out of Canada or the Pacific Northwest or overseas, and we need to test them here in Alabama again.” Because of this, she stressed the importance of granting Alabama’s cannabis farmers extra time to get the job done.

It’s highly likely that the state will require farmers to cultivate medicinal-grade cannabis inside a greenhouse, so as to ensure it is of a pristine quality for safe patient consumption. Greenhouse-grown cannabis will be safeguarded from pesky insects and harmful pathogens; pesticides will not be permitted. What’s more, indoor-cultivated medical cannabis will be shielded from the prying eyes of thieves.

Nonetheless, some farmers are concerned about speeding up the process of medical cannabis growing in Alabama. One of the main concerns centers around the state’s recently-adopted medical cannabis law which could potentially be renegotiated. 

Oncologist and the chairman of the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, Dr. Steve Stokes, thinks that an element of the law stipulating that growing is limited to Alabama residents could be amended/rescinded.

“I hope that’s not going to happen,” said Dr. Stokes, adding that he wants this “to benefit the farmers of Alabama and the patients of Alabama.”

Currently, farmers in Alabama must be able to prove continuous residency of at least 15 years.