The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC) hopes to issue licenses for medical marijuana cultivators and distributors by the end of 2023, officials with the agency said last week. The plan, which was approved by the commission on October 12, comes following multiple lawsuits were filed challenging the rollout of the state’s medical cannabis program.
Alabama state lawmakers legalized the use of medical cannabis for patients with certain qualifying conditions in 2021. But nearly two and a half years later, cannabis is still not available for the patients who need it.
The AMCC issued its first round of licenses in June of this year. But only four days later, the commission put a hold on the licenses and eventually rescinded them because of errors in tabulating applications. Licenses for the potentially lucrative permits were again issued on August 10, but lawsuits challenging the process were filed by unsuccessful applicants.
“There are claims alleging the scoring was deficient in various areas. We’ve had claims, speculating that the scoring is inconsistent for different reasons,” said Mark Wilkerson, an AMCC attorney.
A judge issued a temporary restraining order in the case, and the licenses were put on hold once again. The restraining order still stands but could be lifted by the judge at a hearing later this week. A separate lawsuit from successful applicants challenging the commission’s decision to rescind the original licenses was dismissed by the judge in the case on October 11.
AMCC Approves New Licensing Procedure
One day later, the commission adopted an emergency rule to approve a new process for awarding the licenses that allows applicants to make a presentation to the agency. Commissioners will also consider the scores of previously submitted applications. With the new procedure in place, the AMCC hopes to begin issuing licenses by the end of the year.
“It kind of is a reset,” commission chairman Rex Vaughn said after the end of the meeting, according to a report from the Associated Press. “We think we have a process to move forward, not ditching what we’ve already done, but making use of it as best as possible.”
Attorney Will Somerville represents Alabama Always, a Montgomery company that was not awarded a license after investing $7 million in a cultivation facility. He said that the new process allowing the company to make a presentation to the commission is a positive development.
“The commission should be evaluating people based on whether they are available to commence cultivation within 60 days after receiving a license and reaching full capacity,” Somerville told local media. “Most of the applicants who got awarded licenses, or five of them, aren’t able to do that.”
Somerville added that the earlier licenses were awarded based on “how pretty is your application and not whether you can really do it,” and said that the new process “will allow us to explain why we can commence cultivation faster than anybody else.”
Patients Waiting for MMJ
The slow rollout of Alabama’s medical marijuana program has frustrated patients eager to take advantage of the medicinal benefits of cannabis. Amanda Taylor, 49, used to live in Arizona, where she used medical marijuana to treat multiple sclerosis. She said that medical cannabis can help ease spasms and pain caused by the disease, but it is still not available in Alabama.
“It’s vital for patients like myself, who are suffering,” Taylor said. “It’s not about getting high. It’s about healing.”
Alabama’s medical marijuana law allows patients with certain serious medical conditions including multiple sclerosis, autism, Crohn’s disease, certain cancers, depression and Parkinson’s disease, among others, to use cannabis medicinally. The AMCC chairman hopes the commission’s new licensing procedure will allow the agency to issue new licenses in 2023.
“Our goal is to get to a have a victory lap by the end of the year,” said Vaughn. “Well, we’ll see how that goes. But it’s going to take a lot of work on the part of our commission members.”
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