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Opinion | The Cannabis Commission needs to start over from scratch

With errors on top of errors and its credibility shot, the only real option at this point for the Cannabis Commission is to just start over.

Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission
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It’s time to start over with the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission. 

All the way over. From scratch. With new people – top to bottom. 

And do things right. 

Because this is embarrassing. Every day that passes, I receive emails and messages from various medical cannabis companies, and from simply interested and informed citizens, about more legitimate errors and problems from the AMCC’s “flawed” process for awarding licenses. 

Even after the Commission admitted to the flaws and attempted a partial “do over,” significant and problematic errors remain. 

And these are not simply allegations from companies angry that they missed out on licenses. These are documented issues contained within the AMCC’s own score sheets and other documentation that seemingly have no legitimate explanation. 

Issues such as failing to grant minority contractor status to a company whose majority owner is a historically Black college. 

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Or another scoring issue involving another company partially owned by a different historically Black college – this one, according to two sources familiar with the process, involving documentation issues that the AMCC refuses to explain and that the company thought had been settled months ago. 

Or allegedly allowing multiple companies – but not all applicants – to alter their applications months after the deadline. 

These issues are in addition to the flawed scoring process and the multitude of problems disclosed by the AMCC during its most recent meeting. And in addition to the lingering allegations that the AMCC violated the state’s Open Meetings Act during its last meeting by holding a secret vote during an executive session. 

And all of that is in addition to the AMCC changing its licensing process on the fly at the last meeting, and deciding to give commissioners “nominating power.” That move basically set up a system in which the applicant scores – a process agonized over for months – became secondary to the simple wishes of the commissioners, despite some of those same commissioners stating publicly that they weren’t able to fully vet the applications and hadn’t received all the information they need. 

Maybe such a bungled process is explanation enough for this: Between the first and second round of scores, Hornet Medicinals, whose majority owner is Alabama State University, dropped from sixth to 15th after losing points on facilities that hadn’t changed between the scoring rounds. But even more curious, the 156-year-old historically Black college was dinged by the AMCC’s scorers for “residency” issues and somehow didn’t manage to receive a minority contractor status. 

There’s no explanation for any of that. I asked the AMCC’s outside legal counsel, William Webster, and he couldn’t provide specifics because Hornet Medicinals is part of a lawsuit against the Commission, which is where I first learned of the problems. Webster did ask that I consider that there’s an explanation for everything, and while I have no problem considering that, I also shouldn’t have to, because there’s no reason this process has to be so secretive and confusing. 

Because secretive and confusing is what you do when you’re trying to corrupt the process. Trying to make sure some good ol’ boys get taken care of. Trying to make sure that some guys in a smoke-filled back room can pull the right strings for the right people. 

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I don’t want to hear about how that’s an unfair characterization. There’s absolutely no excuse for all of the secrets and redactions – the AMCC allowed for some of those applications publicly posted to be 95-percent blacked out – and weird changes to the processes with no public announcements. 

And there’s no excuse for the lack of communication. 

According to sources familiar with the process, Jemmstone, in which Tuskegee University has a partial ownership stake, has asked repeatedly for an explanation of the background and other documentation issues that allegedly sent that company tumbling down the AMCC grading sheet. The company asked the Commission for guidance several months ago and followed the directions it was given, even resubmitting portions of the application well after the deadline. 

Speaking of which … maybe these new problems shouldn’t be a surprise considering we’re still finding out about problems with the initial application process that was supposed to be completed on Dec. 31, 2022. 

According to multiple sources, some companies – and while it’s at least two, it’s not clear the total number at this point, according to the sources who spoke with APR – filed amendment applications with the AMCC over the problems with the 10-megabyte file limit for attachments. The AMCC granted those requests, according to the sources, and the companies were able to alter significant portions of their applications as late as late-March, nearly four months after the deadline.   

It’s all too much. 

Seriously, just ask any casual follower of this process what they think. To a person, they will raise concerns about corruption and/or a rigged process designed to give a leg up to certain well-connected applicants. 

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It doesn’t matter if that’s the reality. That’s the way it appears. And the continued successful litigation that seems to always find a boatload of mistakes and missteps is the cause. 

Doubt it? Well, consider this from one of the most respected lawmakers in the state: 

“I think that the Commission has to regain the confidence of the applicants and the Alabamaians they were created to serve,” said state Sen. Bobby Singleton, who was deeply involved in the passage of Alabama’s medical cannabis laws. 

“With the unfortunate experience of having scoring errors and lack of transparency- the litigation is going to continue unless the Commission has all applications re-evaluated by a professional 3rd party that is qualified in this specific industry,” Singleton said. “And then the top rated applications are openly discussed and vetted by the Commission members. I don’t think any of us intended for a popularity contest where you win by the number of nominations you received.  

We intended on the best applications winning.”

Stop this. Go back, fix the process and re-award the licenses in a transparent, easy-to-understand manner that ensures public trust. 

Because this is a mess. 

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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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