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A legislative “fix” in the works for Alabama’s beleaguered medical cannabis licensing

Legislation would expand the number of integrated licenses from five to as many as 15, ending many of the lawsuits currently facing the AMCC.

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A legislative fix could be on the way for Alabama’s medical marijuana licensing problems. 

Sen. Tim Melson said Tuesday that he’s optimistic that legislation that would expand the number of integrated licenses available from the state will be introduced shortly after the legislature’s spring break, and hopefully can bring an end to the legal logjam that has delayed the distribution of medical marijuana to Alabama patients. 

“I think we’re close on that legislation,” Melson said. “I haven’t felt the body out, so I’m not sure where everyone stands. But I know the goal of (medical marijuana) was to help patients and I think (a majority) would be on board with something that gets us to that.”

Melson declined to discuss specifics of the proposed legislation, because as of now nothing has been finalized and lawmakers and attorneys are still working through possibilities. 

A source familiar with one draft piece of legislation told APR that lawmakers are discussing expanding the number of available integrated licenses from the current five to somewhere between nine and 15, which would essentially allow the state to issue licenses to all companies that could meet all of the other requirements under Alabama’s laws. Lawmakers and attorneys representing many of the applicant companies project that such an expansion would end many of the lawsuits currently pending against the AMCC.

However, to ensure the legislation receives support from the majority of lawmakers, it would place additional limitations on the number of dispensaries aligned with each integrated company. 

So, while the number of companies producing medical marijuana would grow, the available locations dispensing the product would not, or at least would increase minimally – alleviating some legislators’ fears that an abundance of the product would flood the state. 

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“That’s not really a possibility because of the requirements of the law,” the source said, “but you’re always going to have people against (medical marijuana) and this is a way to kill a talking point.”

The legislative “fix” is viewed as necessary because of the seemingly never-ending legal issues surrounding the state’s licensing process, which the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission has bungled from the start. 

Lawsuits challenging the process have focused on a variety of errors, including a scoring process that the AMCC admitted was seriously flawed and multiple violations of the state’s Open Meetings Act. Additionally, lawsuits have been filed accusing the AMCC and its staff of providing more favorable treatment for certain applicants and mistreatment of others. 

These allegations have been far from baseless, and a Montgomery County Circuit Court has entered multiple restraining orders to stop the AMCC from moving forward with issuing licenses. 

Currently, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has stayed all proceedings, leaving the licensing process stayed, until the circuit court rules on a motion to dismiss from the AMCC. Initial briefs for that motion aren’t due until April 1, and a hearing on the matter won’t be scheduled until at least April 16. If the judge denies that motion, the case will then move back to the Appeals Court, which likely won’t make a determination on the matter before it until at least early May. 

And still, all of that doesn’t address the multitude of separate legal issues facing the AMCC and its licensing process, which threaten to push the availability of medical marijuana in the state well past its projected timeline of Spring 2024.

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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