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Opinion | The bungling of the medical marijuana licenses is hurting desperate Alabamians

The long delays and many missteps of the Cannabis Commission are continuing the suffering of sick people who need relief.


On May 17, 2021, Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the state of Alabama. 

That’s more than two years ago, just so we’re clear. 

A little more than one week ago, the Alabama Cannabis Commission – the government entity created by the legislature to enforce regulations and issue licenses to companies that can deliver medical marijuana to the people of Alabama – had to put a stay on the first licenses the Commission ever approved. On Friday, a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge issued his own stay on those licenses, ensuring that the process will be tied up in litigation and paperwork for months to come. 

And somewhere in this state, there’s a sick kid or a pain-riddled grandma who could be aided by medical marijuana but who will instead suffer on. 

Because of incompetence. And arrogance. And a toxic mix of ignorance and indifference. 

Governmental failure is not uncommon in this state. But the bungling of this process has set a new bar for embarrassing failures in Alabama.

Last Thursday, an Alabama-based company, Alabama Always, LLC., that hoped to receive a medical marijuana integrated license filed a lawsuit detailing just a few of the many, many ways the process has been bogged down by mistakes, poor decisions and what appears to be an almost complete shirking of duties by the Cannabis Commission. 

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Now, look, I get that the lawsuit is the story from one side of this argument. And I know full well that the other side will have its answers to some of the claims. But I also know that most of the allegations contained in that lawsuit aren’t exactly secrets. 

Over the past two years, there have been dozens of stories written about the various mistakes and miscues, along with the seemingly endless amount of time it was taking the Commission to do pretty much anything. 

For example, the story of how the Commission bungled the application process – by setting an unannounced 10 mb-limit on file attachments – was well documented. As Alabama Always noted in its lawsuit, the limit caused the company to compress its schematics and engineering drawings to the point that they were nearly illegible – and then they were apparently docked points during the review process because the documents were hard to read. 

But making matters worse, the Commission – or an attorney working for the Commission, or employees working for the Commission – told other companies not to worry about that file size limitation. Instead, some companies – but not all – were told to insert blank pages in the submitted file and simply put the large attachments on a separate thumb drive or submit hard copies, according to people familiar with the process. 

It was a mess. And it hasn’t gotten any better. 

The reason for the stay imposed by the Cannabis Commission – a stay, by the way, that the Commission likely didn’t have the authority to issue – was due to “inconsistencies” with the scoring process of the applications. The Commission was caught completely off guard by these inconsistencies. 

You know why? 

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Because the Commission didn’t score anything. 

Instead, according to two sources familiar with the “grading system” employed by the Commission, the actual grading of applications was farmed out to a group of grad students working for the University of South Alabama. Those students just went through the paperwork and tried to score companies based on the long list of requirements adopted by the Legislature and the Commission – requirements that don’t always match up on paper the way they might in real life. 

The Commission apparently never reviewed the scores from the graders until the morning before they were announced. And even then, several of the Commission members were forced to recuse from numerous votes because of personal ties with applicants. (I’m not they shouldn’t have recused, but the fact that so many were forced to do so indicates just how political the process has been, even from the point of selecting commissioners to serve.)

I’m certain that the 14 members of the Commission are good people who want to do a good job. Most of them are very accomplished individuals with years of service to patients and the community. But as the kids say, this ain’t it. 

The law establishing the Cannabis Commission spends page after page discussing requirements and regulations that the Commission is responsible for ensuring. As far as anyone knows – and I’ve checked with multiple facilities – no one associated with the Commission has ever taken a site visit to check applicants’ facilities. In its lawsuit, Alabama Always, which has built a multi-million-dollar facility in Alabama, flatly states that no one has visited. 

That’s an embarrassing level of oversight. 

And it sure doesn’t bode well for the future responsibilities of the Commission, which only increase once the growing and production and shipping of medical marijuana commences. At that point, it will be responsible for vast oversight of these major operations and enforcing numerous laws. 

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What possible faith could we have in that oversight when no one bothered to visit the handful of sites that were approved? 

But beyond all of that – and the one thing I hope everyone continues to focus on here – is that the bill that legalized medical marijuana in Alabama was named for the son of Alabama Rep. Laura Hall. Ato died at the age of 25 from the AIDS virus. Like thousands of kids and adults around this state, his suffering could have been eased by the use of marijuana. 

This is not a controversial idea. Doctors prescribe marijuana all the time in this country, because it’s safe and effective. For some people, it’s an absolute godsend. 

And right now, because of sheer incompetence and indifference, we’re depriving those suffering people of the help they so desperately need. 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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