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Opinion | Trouble brewing (again) for Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission

The AMCC’s licensing process has been shady from the start, and now it’s allegedly attracting attention from investigators.

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More upheaval in Alabama’s attempt to award medical cannabis licenses is on the way. 

Following the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission’s licensing decisions a week ago – its third attempt at handing out those licenses – an army of attorneys, executives and investors have spent time picking apart the process and drawing up new lawsuits. According to three sources who spoke with APR over the last two days, multiple lawsuits are expected to be filed. 

In addition, and possibly way more importantly, two additional sources have told APR that they have been contacted in recent weeks by investigators for the Alabama Attorney General’s Office and the FBI, with questions about the AMCC’s butchered scoring process. That process was ultimately tossed by the AMCC and the scores weren’t used, but rumors have swirled since almost the beginning of the application process of improper influence over that process by specific individuals with ties to certain applicant companies. 

According to both sources, who have each been involved in the application review process from the beginning, there doesn’t seem to yet be an active investigation. Both described their interaction with the investigators as informal, or “fact finding” in the initial stages. “He seemed to be trying to separate fact from rumor to see if something illegal had taken place,” one source said. 

Regardless of what ultimately happens, the fact that both the AG’s office and the FBI are apparently sniffing around is a pretty telling indicator of just how spectacularly awful this licensing process has gone. 

It has been a mess from the start. Some would argue that it’s been an intentionally crooked mess. 

At this point, it would be hard to argue that. And last Tuesday’s third round of awarding the same licenses did absolutely nothing to stifle the suspicions that something – or a lot of somethings – just ain’t right about this whole ordeal. 

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I mean, let’s just take, for starters, the way the commission determined which companies would receive a license. Each commissioner simply ranked the 30-plus applicants in order. The rankings were then calculated and an average for each company determined. 

There were no discussions. There were no arguments or deliberations or casual chitchat between commissioners over their votes. 

So, when the final ranking sheet was distributed, and the top scorer, Sustainable Alabama, four first-place rankings from the nine voting commissioners, but also three third-place selections, a sixth-place and a 29th place, there was zero explanation. One commissioner literally thought that the AMCC’s top scorer was actually one of the worst applicants. 

How can that be? 

No idea. Because no one on the Commission ever had a dialogue in an open meeting. 

They never discussed the process. They never talked about the ranking system. They never talked in open session about the many, many rules changes or the changes to their voting processes. 

They just all showed up and somehow knew exactly what they were going to do, who they were going to vote for and there was never any reason to talk about it in public. 

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I’ve covered public meetings for a long, long time in this state. I’ve never encountered a board, a commission, a council or a committee that selected from a list of 36 people or things without having some sort of discussion and/or debate (sometimes a heated argument) about their votes. 

Making it even worse is the fact that you would think that a Commission that has had so much trouble fulfilling its duty of awarding these licenses would be particularly sensitive to its public image at this point. That it would do everything possible to achieve transparency in its process. That it would lean into open dialogue and public debate. 

But nah, not the AMCC. 

Instead, through three rounds of licensing for integrated facilities, nine different companies have been selected by this group, including three different top scorers, and not once has this commission held a public debate in which the commissioners openly discussed their selections for the top companies. 

We don’t know why they placed so little emphasis on certain aspects of the law, like the requirement put in place by the state legislature that companies secure a $2 million performance bond or that they be ready to begin production within 60 days. Those issues appeared to be pass/fail as far as the legislature was concerned, but the commissioners just brushed them off. 

Hell, most of the applicants who won a license lacked a permanent facility. Some didn’t even have a secured lease for a location. Many of them said they planned to use temporary facilities – shipping containers – to get started. At least one has already approached a company that didn’t win to inquire about buying its facility. 

You get that? A company that did win is trying to buy the facility of a company that didn’t win. 

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And, oh, yeah, one more thing: The commissioners STILL haven’t visited a single location to determine whether even the temporary facilities are in place. But I reckon that’s not a big deal – it was only required by the law. 

Look, having studied almost all of the applications and reported on this process from the beginning, I think a couple of the companies awarded integrated licenses will do a good job. They have the proper experience and have hired the proper experts. And the rest might be fine, too, but I’d like for someone to explain it. 

Let’s keep in mind here that these companies are going to be producing a product that we hand out to some of the sickest, most fragile people in the world. This process, and who’s licensed in this state, matters a lot. And the Commission overseeing it all should be able to answer publicly some very basic questions about why these companies were selected, and why the process was handled as it has been. The people of this state deserve to get those answers. 

Even if the AG’s office or the FBI has to get them.

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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