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The legislative “fix” for medical cannabis doesn’t appear to fix anything

The goal of a new medical weed bill is to “get the commission out of court,” and it’s not clear the bill does that.

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The Alabama Legislature apparently wants to bail out the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission. 

Legislation introduced Tuesday, and surprisingly carried by Sen. David Sessions, would expand the number of integrated licenses offered by the AMCC from five to 15, and it would award nine of those to companies previously awarded licenses during flawed processes. 

The specifics of the legislation caught interested parties, and several lawmakers, by surprise, since it contained a number of provisions not previously discussed and that were extremely favorable for the AMCC and certain cannabis applicants. 

“(The legislation) filed today by Sen. David Sessions does not fix any of the issues that have plagued the process of bringing medical cannabis to patients in Alabama,” said attorney Will Somerville, who has represented the plaintiffs in a number of legal actions brought against the AMCC and its licensing process. “In fact, this bill is even worse than the status quo. This bill will automatically give licenses to the nine companies who were wrongly awarded licenses last year by the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission based purely on politics and favoritism.”

There’s little denying that the bill was crafted to halt the litany of lawsuits facing the AMCC and make it all but impossible for any applicant with a complaint to bring additional legal action. Even Sessions admitted as much. 

“The goal is to try and get the commission out of court,” Sessions told the Alabama Reflector. 

It certainly attempts to do so, although it’s unclear if it succeeds. 

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The bill would completely revamp the way medical marijuana licenses are awarded – taking the process out of the hands of the AMCC and instead appointing an administrative law judge to make the decision. 

However, as Somerville pointed out, the legislation would also reward applicants that even the AMCC has admitted shouldn’t receive a license, and it would arbitrarily grant licenses to companies that fail to meet the basic standards established by the legislature when it crafted the original medical marijuana legislation. 

For example, as part of the basic requirements for applicants, the legislature mandated that each company carry a $2 million performance bond. The AMCC flatly ignored that directive in its licensing process – an act that has been one of the centerpieces of the ongoing litigation. 

Several applicants have failed to secure such a bond even now, including many of the companies that would be awarded licenses under Sessions’ bill – a bill that still carries the requirement for the $2 million performance bond for the companies vying for the remaining six licenses. 

“All but two of the nine companies do not meet the basic statutory requirements set forth by the original medical cannabis legislation,” Somerville said. “Only one of the nine had the required performance bond required by law and only two have built the grow facilities required under the Act. The original law states in three places that the Legislature did NOT intend to give a license to any out of state company that sells recreational cannabis. SB 276 would grant licenses in Alabama to two of the largest sellers of recreational marijuana across America.”

The legislation appears to be yet another misstep in a process that has been plagued almost exclusively with missteps since the original legislation passed in 2021. 

Certainly, the licensing process has been nothing short of an absolute mess. Plagued by litigation – much of it successful – the AMCC has been forced twice to admit mistakes and restart the licensure process after it had already awarded licenses to several companies. 

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The first snafu came after the initial round of licensing last June. After lawsuits were filed challenging the legitimacy of the scoring process implemented by allegedly independent graders working through the University of South Alabama, the AMCC tossed out the awards and called its process “flawed.” 

Another round of licenses were awarded in August, and those two were stopped by litigation. The AMCC agreed to make a third attempt after implementing additional changes to its scoring and awarding processes. 

That attempt failed as well, and the two sides – the AMCC and numerous cannabis companies vying for licenses – remain locked in litigation that has now reached the Alabama Civil Court of Appeals. 

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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