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Alabama Senate Panel Advances Legislation To Restart Medical Marijuana Licensing Process



“The Cannabis Commission has had three years to get this program going and it’s still dead in the water.”

By Alander Rocha, Alabama Reflector

An Alabama Senate committee Wednesday approved two bills aimed at restarting the state’s medical cannabis licensing process.

The Senate Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee approved SB 306, sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence) which would restart the licensing process and take away some of the powers of the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC).

“This will just be starting over. All applicants that had application in by the original deadline will be allowed to apply again, at another deadline,” said Melson, who sponsored the 2021 bill establishing a medical cannabis program in the state.

The Alabama Securities Commission will verify and evaluate the applications, then send them to the AMCC to select the candidates. The commission would be responsible for regulation and enforcement. As passed by the committee, the bill keeps licensing powers with the commission, but Melson indicated that an amendment could take that power away.

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 inhalable 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.

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) suggested that the Alabama Securities Commission and not the AMCC should license the cannabis providers.

“They looked at the same application three different times and gave not a consistent score, but totally inconsistent scores, and I think once you put it back in the hands of that commission, again, I’m afraid that some of those same things are going to happen,” Singleton said.

He suggested having a consultant as well to oversee the process. Melson said he would be agreeable to that amendment.

Mary Margaret Carroll, a lobbyist who represents a cultivator denied a license in one round, has worked on cannabis legislation with Melson for a few years, said that there has been a lot of interest from outside Alabama, and with “complicated financial documents and very complicated business organization documents,” they believe the Alabama Securities Commission would be best fit to evaluate those documents.

“In these applications, there are a lot of international interests sometimes, but there’s a lot of interest that have come together to become that applicant in Alabama,” she said.

Carroll’s client is involved in the litigation, she said, but she is not.

Ray French, chief operating officer for Specialty Medical Products of Alabama, which has been granted a license in all three rounds, said that he believes the commission can handle the licensing process. He said that this is a complete redo with a change in the rules, late in the game.

“[AMCC] really took the time to understand the applicants, and these people have been vetted, have been looked at. In this last round, they got it right,” French said.

Will Somerville, attorney for Alabama Always, a company denied a license in the three rounds, said that commended Melson for introducing a bill “that will break the logjam and get this medicine to folks that need it.”

“The Cannabis Commission has had three years to get this program going and it’s still dead in the water. The Commission did not follow the law and the Courts halted the process,” Somerville said in a statement.

The committee also approved SB 276, sponsored by Sen. David Sessions (R-Grand Bay) which would require the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC) to issue 10 licenses for integrated facilities, or businesses that can grow, process and distribute medical cannabis. As originally filed, the AMCC would have had to issue 15 integrated facility licenses.

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It would also increase the maximum number of dispensary licenses from four to seven and the maximum number of processor licenses from four to six.

The committee amended the bill to ban the transfer of licenses. Currently, the commission could approve a transfer of license. It would also provide that if a company issued a license is found to be no longer eligible, that license would be voided and not given to another applicant.

“I think there was a lot of discussion among representatives for certain companies that were saying some companies that were awarded should not even have been awarded. So if that’s the instance, those licenses will go away,” Sessions said.

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

“I think that, unfortunately, other interests and other things have sidetracked this,” Melson said, “and I just want them to have a fair chance and get this back to a credible program. That we put validity back in, and that it makes us look like we’re doing our job, instead of just saying, ‘Okay, we passed a bill, let’s let somebody execute it.’”

The bills move to the Senate for consideration.

This story was first published by Alabama Reflector.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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