The city of Tuscaloosa took a first step in paving the way for medical marijuana dispensaries to do business in the area during a meeting of its Administrative Committee Tuesday afternoon.

The committee heard a presentation from city attorney Scott Holmes and ultimately voted to recommend allowing dispensaries to open in the city if and when they get approval to do so from the state government, which has set strict standards to govern the sale of medical marijuana in Alabama.

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"Usually when the state legalizes something, it is then up to municipalities to say hey, we don't want that here and go forward and prohibit something. In this instance, they kind of did things backwards," Holmes said. "They have said medical cannabis is legal and any jurisdiction that is willing to allow it or doesn't want to prohibit it must proactively pass an ordinance saying that we will allow medical cannabis dispensaries to open within our corporate limits."

Holmes said fears about dispensaries popping up on every corner are misplaced -- that the state will limit the number of licenses it grants and that strict rules are in place about what will be available for sale. No smoke-able leaf will be for sale, and instead dispensaries will offer pills, capsules, peach gummies, topical preparations, suppositories, patches and other more traditionally medical products.

"This is also not what people think of when they think of medical marijuana," Holmes said. "I think a lot of people think of what they see on the news with what's going on in Colorado and other places where you go into a store and there's a bunch of leaf marijuana and you can pick from a bunch of crazy names then you go home and smoke it and do what you want."

There will no be a sudden influx of joints, brownies, sugared gummies, vapes and other marijuana media more suited for recreational consumption, he said.

Holmes also added that only a narrow group of patients will qualify for a prescription, including those with autism, HIV/AIDS, cancer, epilepsy and other chronic conditions that would currently be treated with opioids.

"We do expect we will see it. We will see our citizens using it and we'll probably see the people who can get benefit from this are going to get benefit from it and they're going to find it someplace," Holmes said. "In my opinion, I see no reason if this is going to be legal in the state of Alabama that it not be legal in the city of Tuscaloosa.

Holmes also said there is a revenue component to the matter, and the city stands to gain business license and sales tax revenue from every dispensary that opens here.

The attorney said that revenue is already earmarked to fund public safety initiatives, including the expected overhaul of pension plans for police officers in the city.

The Administrative Committee unanimously approved the measure Tuesday afternoon.

For updates on the medical marijuana discussion in the Druid City, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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