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Alabama Applicants For Vertically Integrated Medical Marijuana Business Licenses Make Their Cases To Regulators



“I think all of us are interested in how aggressive they can be with the timeframe since we had delay after delay up to this point.”

By Alander Rocha, Alabama Reflector

Companies seeking to build all-inclusive medical cannabis facilities began making their cases to the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission Tuesday.

Presentations will run from Tuesday until Friday, and the commission will award the licenses next week.

Applicants seeking integrated facility licenses, which would grow, process and distribute medical cannabis, were allotted up to 45 minutes to speak to the commission. Most companies stressed their ability to quickly get products to patients.

“We will grow [medical cannabis] and produce products and have them on the shelf within several months, as fast as that plant can grow and we can harvest it,” said Chuck Smith, chief operating officer and part owner of Southeast Cannabis Company.

Smith said they could have products available as early as June, if they begin operating in January.

AMCC Chair Rex Vaughn said that while the commission is considering how quickly dispensaries can get products to patients, he feels that hearing from companies talk about their business has been most valuable.

“I think all of us are interested in how aggressive they can be with the timeframe since we had delay after delay up to this point,” he said. “But I think what we’re really looking for—and enjoying hearing—is them being so straightforward with us and telling us their game plan and how intentional they tend to be with what they’re going to do.”

The commission will grant five integrated facilities licenses.

“It’s going to be next to impossible,” Vaughn said. “Kind of like the last time we did it—we all felt, I guess, fuzzy, because we knew we had picked some really good ones, but at the same time we could not pick some other good ones.”

Each integrated facility will operate five dispensaries that will be responsible for growing cannabis and selling the product in dispensaries.

The commission awarded 20 licenses on Friday for businesses providing individual services, including cultivation, processing and dispensing. An integrated facility would be authorized to perform every action for growing and cultivating medical cannabis.

Thirty-six entities applied for integrated facilities licenses. There were 38 companies in the running, but two withdrew their applications.

While some addressed perceived shortcomings in their applications, such as residency issues, others made emotional appeals when speaking to their experience in agriculture.

Nell Maisel, a co-owner of Jemmstone Alabama, one of the integrated facility applicants, said that she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 20 years ago. That, she said, led her to invest in medical cannabis in other states, including most recently acquiring an integrated facility license in Florida.

But Maisel cited her Alabama roots, including her education in the state’s public schools, as well as a degree from the University of Alabama.

“I’ve done a lot of reading, it helps people, and that’s what I care about—especially in my home state of Alabama. And like you know, the team is over 70 percent Alabamian, and that’s what I care about,” she said.

The AMCC first awarded licenses in June, but scoring inconsistencies led the commission to void the awards and reevaluate the applications.

A lawsuit alleging the commission violated the Open Meetings Act halted the process again in August. That prompted the commission to rescind the awards a second time, negotiating with claimants on a possible process to move forward with the awards.

The AMCC adopted new licensing and application rules in October after months of legal dispute and stalled settlement negotiations, which set the latest round of applications in motion.

The Alabama Legislature approved a medical cannabis program for the state in 2021, but the bill authorizing the program did not allow licenses to be issued until September 1, 2022. The AMCC began accepting applications late last year.

When the product is available, patients certified by participating physicians will be able to use medical cannabis for 15 conditions, including cancer, chronic pain, depression and Parkinson’s Disease. Patients will have to apply for a card to obtain medical cannabis from licensed dispensers.

The law forbids smoking medical cannabis or consuming it in food. It will be available as tablets, capsules, gelatins, oils, gels, creams, suppositories, transdermal patches, or inhalable oils or liquids. Cannabis gummies will only be allowed to be peach-flavored.

Vaughn said these presentations allow the commission to pick companies that can get started with “minimal chance of a problem.” They are heavily weighing these presentations based on what the presenters tell the commission, and how well “applicants can perform and what they’re telling us,” he said.

“That’s what these presentations I think exposed to us,” he said. “It’s these companies, or these applicants, that probably provide us the best opportunity to get the industry going off as smoothly and quickly as possible.”

This story was first published by Alabama Reflector.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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