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Medical Cannabis Commission once again awarding licenses

Once again, the new licenses can be expected to be challenged with an onslaught of lawsuits.

The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission meets. Jacob Holmes/APR
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The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission once again awarded licenses after a months-long delay to correct errors in the scoring of applicants.

And once again, those licenses can be expected to be challenged with an onslaught of lawsuits as attorneys have been waiting and watching, ready to challenge a process they have said is riddled with flaws and secrecy.

The commission convened at 10 a.m. Thursday, beginning the meeting by replacing Dr. Steven Stokes as chairman after his resignation due to a legal filing challenging his eligibility. The commission chose Rex Vaughn to take over as chair, and made Sam Blakemore Vice Chair.

After voiding the previous licenses awarded, the commission quickly went into executive session to discuss the applicants, which has been a thorny issue already in litigation. Lawyers for Alabama Always, a hopeful applicant that has now been twice rejected by the commission, said the executive session was improper the last time the commission awarded licenses and asked Montgomery Circuit Judge James Anderson to preclude the commission from entering executive session. Anderson denied that motion, but said there is relief available if the commission violates the Open Meetings Act.

After each commissioner nominated their preferred candidate, the commission staff took the sealed nominations to be tabulated behind closed doors. Meanwhile, Lynne Chronister and Keisten Roberts of the University of South Alabama discussed the errors that had been made in the first round of awards.

One major error was the accidental submission of one applicant’s score twice, which Brown said caused a “trickle-down effect” when averaging scores. There were also criteria which were incorrectly weighted, which Brown said did not affect rankings because the error was applied equally to all applicants.

In one case of human error, certain data were placed on incorrect rows or columns on a spreadsheet used for scoring applicants.

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Captured on a hot mic on the Zoom broadcast of the meeting, one person viewing the proceedings called it “a comedy show.”

Meanwhile, the commission said it has full faith that the new scores are fully corrected, after having the accounting firm KMPG audit the scores.

“Since the Commission’s inception, we have worked to develop a fair, honest, and equitable process to select licensees,” Vaughn said. “It is regrettable that the tabulation errors occurred, however we have acknowledged the miscalculations and have taken the necessary steps to ensure that the data provided to the Commission was accurate. We are sincerely appreciative of the Court for allowing us to take corrective actions.”

Most notably, Verano Alabama, LLC. did not make the cut this time for an integrated facility license. By statute, the Commission could only award five integrated facility licenses for applicants wanting to oversee the process from seed to sale. The other four applicants granted integrated facilities Thursday matched those awarded in June: Sustainable Alabama, TheraTrue, Flowerwood, and Southeast Cannabis Company. But Insa took the place of Verano in the new awarding process.

The corrected scoring did not adversely affect any other applicants in the other categories, but did add more licensees in the cultivator category, awarding licenses to I AM Farms, Greenway Botanical and CRC of Alabama in addition to the previously awarded applicants.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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