Dave Riley was a U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer stationed in Mobile until a bacterial infection resulted in the loss of all four of his limbs.
To deal with the pain associated with the issue, Riley was prescribed fentanyl for two decades until the pain clinic he routinely used was shut down. He searched everywhere, including the local United States Department of Veterans Affairs hospital for relief but struggled to find it.
“It took a month or so to find help,” Riley said.
During that time, Riley said he began to understand why so many veterans take their own lives. He eventually found cannabis-derived CBD and the compound helps him sleep.
“That’s what saved my life,” he said.
Riley’s comments came Tuesday as the Mobile City Council began debate on allowing medical cannabis dispensaries to locate in the city. As part of the state law regulating cannabis use for a small number of ailments, municipalities must vote to opt in to allow retail establishments selling cannabis to open within their borders.
Many Baldwin County municipalities have already approved similar ordinances, including Foley, Daphne, Spanish Fort and Loxely. Fairhope voted down a similar ordinance.
Riley said a far more dangerous medication for veterans is opioids, which remains a huge problem nationwide.
“I speak to veterans every day, as a commander of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV),” he said. “I know the problem is out there and the problem is opioids. The solution is marijuana. It worked for me.”
Former Mobile Mayor Mike Dow, CEO of a CBD processor called Oscity Labs, argued that for veterans like Riley traditional medicines do not work. Even with traditional medications available, Dow said 25 veterans per day die by suicide and another 20 die from overdoses.
District 6 Councilman Scott Jones, who had initially requested more information on the ordinance, asked Dow how much money he stood to make from approval of the ordinance. Dow told him he didn’t understand the relevance of the question, before Council President C.J. Small shut down the back-and-forth.
During a pre-conference meeting, Jones said money is the reason the city is pushing to approve dispensaries and it doesn’t help make the city safer.
“The problem lies in non-regulated dispensaries,” he said.
Also during the pre-conference meeting, Jones scoffed at the city’s contention that allowing dispensaries would provide jobs and revenue for the city.
“So does human trafficking,” he said to groans from around the room. “So does trafficking drugs.”
During the regular meeting, Jones said he has suffered from many of the same symptoms as other veterans, but never used marijuana.
“I chose not to take it because I didn’t want it in my body,” he said.
In response, Riley said that was Jones’ choice not to partake.
“I would rather put a natural plant in my body than something synthetic and made by man,” he said.
Several residents spoke in opposition to dispensaries, which some called “pot shops.”
Pam Lee asked councilors to vote “no” on the ordinance for a number of reasons, calling it a “gateway drug” to more potent addictive chemicals and adding the marijuana of today is not the same as the stuff in the 1950s and 1960s.
Kathy Odom warned the council not to fall for marijuana myths. Not only did she tell councilors marijuana makes depression and anxiety worse, but she added the medical benefits of cannabis have been developed into pharmaceuticals, arguing there’s no need for dispensaries.
Jones also repeatedly asked about enforcement of medical cannabis. To this, city attorney Ricardo Woods said anyone caught with cannabis without a prescription card could be prosecuted for possession of a schedule 1 drug. It would be the same as if someone had xanax without a prescription.
As for dispensaries, Woods said those will already be heavily regulated by the state, with legal limitations on where they can be placed. A dispensary, by law, cannot be placed within 1,000 feet of a church or school. Zoning regulations also prevent dispensaries from being placed within residential neighborhoods. The retailers would also be required to obtain a business license, like any other legal shop in the city.
“We are ready to enforce it,” Woods said.
Reynolds didn’t argue for or against the ordinance. Instead, he questioned the timing of the actions. He wanted to know why the council had scheduled a committee meeting on the subject for the Monday after Thanksgiving. He said it appeared the decision would be made “in the dark of night.”
Given these and other concerns, councilors delayed a vote on dispensaries until Dec. 13. It is unclear; however, whether the public services committee meeting featuring a member of the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission will still be held on Monday, Nov. 28 at 2 p.m.
While the commission will not approve medical marijuana licenses until next spring or summer at the earliest. Dispensaries need to know about locations prior to the application filing deadline at the end of the year.