Birmingham City Council

Birmingham City Council Moves Toward Approval of Cannabis Dispensaries

District 2 Councilor Hunter Williams expresses skepticism about a new city ordinance allowing medical marijuana dispensaries.

Birmingham has taken “the first step” on the road to legalizing medical marijuana. The City Council voted Tuesday to approve an ordinance authorizing medical cannabis dispensaries to operate within Birmingham city limits.

The Alabama Legislature authorized the production and distribution of medical marijuana in the state last year, though it maintains strict regulatory control over the licensing process. That process is ongoing — the state is not expected to issue licenses until July — but Tuesday’s vote opens the city up to potential licensees.

“The state still has a while to go on what it’s doing and its process,” said Mayor Randall Woodfin. “But what I can tell you is, there is interest in this area, being the most populated area in the county or state on both the manufacturing and [distribution] side.”

State law will prohibit the dispensaries from being located within 1,000 feet of a school or childcare or daycare facility. Only officially authorized patients and caregivers will be allowed to enter the dispensaries. State law requires dispensaries to have video surveillance.

Even so, District 2 Councilor Hunter Williams said he had “a lot of reservations and concerns” about the ordinance, asking if the city would be able to increase the distance between dispensaries and schools, or if there would be any recourse for neighborhoods that did not want a proposed dispensary, citing previous neighborhood controversies surrounding CBD stores.

Woodfin encouraged council members to “put their healthcare hat on in how they go about viewing this topic.”

“This is not a CBD store,” he said. “It’s not even analogous. It’s not even in the same ballpark… It’s going to be extremely important on our end for residents to be armed with factual information.”

Assistant City Attorney Julie Barnard added that last year’s state cannabis law would allow for only nine licenses to be issued for all of Jefferson County. “This isn’t something you’re going to see coming around every week,” she said.

The council ultimately voted in favor of the ordinance. District 3 Councilor Valerie Abbott was absent from the vote; Williams abstained.