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Alabama Bill Would Increase Medical Marijuana Business Licenses As Litigation Stalls Market Launch



“The commission has awarded licenses three times now, and they’re still in court.”

By Jemma Stephenson, Alabama Reflector

An Alabama Senate bill filed Tuesday would significantly increase the number of medical marijuana production licenses amid a months-long legal dispute over the process of awarding existing licenses.

SB 276, sponsored by Sen. David Sessions (R), would increase the maximum number of dispensary licenses from four to seven; require the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC) to issue 15 licenses for integrated facilities, or businesses that can grow, process and distribute medical cannabis; and increase the maximum number of processor licenses from four to six.

The bill would also require the AMCC to confirm any licenses granted by the commission from June to December of last year by June 15. An appeals process is outlined in the legislation, with a timeline, to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.

“The goal is to try and get the commission out of court,” Sessions said on Tuesday.

John McMillan, director with the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, said Tuesday that the staff of the commission still needed to “digest” the bill.

“Our priority is getting this program up and running,” he said.

The Alabama Legislature in 2021 approved a medical cannabis program that would allow people with up to 15 different ailments, including cancer, depression, Parkinson’s disease and PTSD, to use medical cannabis. Cannabis will be available in tablets, capsules, gelatins like gummies, oils, gels, creams, suppositories, transdermal patches, or inhaleable oils or liquids. The law bans smoking medical cannabis or putting it in edibles.

The commission first awarded licenses to produce medical cannabis last June, but voided them after what commission members said were inconsistencies in scoring applications. A second round of license awards in August was stopped amid a lawsuit over alleged violations of the Open Meetings Act. Further litigation has stopped the award of some licenses from December.

“The commission has awarded licenses three times now, and they’re still in court,” Sessions said.

Sessions said the legislation would provide licenses to the four companies that were given licenses previously but did not receive them in the last round.

Sessions also said that 15 might be too high, and he is looking for it to be amended down to 12 or less.

Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed (R) was noncommittal about the bill on Tuesday.

“Is that what the Legislature is wanting to do?” he said to reporters after the Senate adjourned. “I don’t know. We’re just going to have to see.”

Sen. Tim Melson (R), a co-sponsor of the bill and sponsor of the 2021 medical cannabis legislation, said that he did not expect the process to unfurl the way that it had.

“I thought that there was probably some mistakes that were made. And the remedy was probably not the best way in hindsight, but it is what it is,” he said.

Will Somerville, attorney for Alabama Always, which has brought several lawsuits against the commission, said in a statement Tuesday that the bill would not fix any of the current problems and would make the situation worse.

He wrote that the legislation would provide licenses to those companies wrongly awarded licenses and said that seven of the nine companies do not meet the original requirements. He wrote that the original legislation said there was not an intention to provide licenses to out of state companies.

“This bill will not settle any of the ongoing controversy or litigation,” he wrote. “Legislation should be developed that will fix the major flaws in the commission’s actions and allow legitimate companies that followed the law to begin to provide products to Alabamians who desperately need it. This bill does the opposite.”

Patrick Dungan, an attorney representing Southeast Cannabis, another company suing the commission, said in a statement that the bill “provides a path forward to getting needed medication to patients and issuing licenses to those entities who had previously been granted licenses by the state.”

“Absent a legislative solution like this, it could take years to unravel these problems,” the statement said.

This story was first published by Alabama Reflector.

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