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Medical marijuana “fix” has rough debut in committee

The new legislation was met with skepticism and anger during a committee meeting that wasn’t streamed or recorded.

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The legislative “fix” for Alabama’s medical marijuana quagmire – SB276 – was met with skepticism, disbelief and anger during a public hearing in front of the Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday. 

Typical of a process that has been plagued by allegations of backroom deals and failures to follow Alabama’s Open Meetings Act, the committee meeting was not streamed live or recorded – one of the few meetings, and the only committee meeting with overflow attendance, not to be recorded this legislative session. 

According to several attendees of the meeting, however, lawmakers seemed skeptical of the “fix,” raising questions about the increase in the number of licenses, what the market would look like and why the legislature should bail the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission out of a mess it got itself into. 

SB276, sponsored by Sens. David Sessions and Tim Melson, would increase the number of licenses available in several categories, but would push the number of integrated licenses from 5 to 15. It also would completely revamp the licensing process and automatically award licenses to the nine companies that were awarded licenses during one of the AMCC’s three unsuccessful licensing rounds. 

Those rounds were all halted by litigation that brought to light a number of serious flaws within the AMCC procedures. The AMCC itself admitted that the scoring process utilized during the initial licensing awards was “flawed,” and it voluntarily entered into an agreement with several companies that filed suit to toss out the second round of awards because of additional problems with the process. Nevertheless, SB276 would still carry through with those licensing decisions and provide licenses to companies that the Commission has said shouldn’t have them. 

Sessions made no secret of the fact that the bill, as written, was designed to “get the Commission out of court.” Whether it would do so is unclear, but seemingly unlikely. 

That’s primarily because SB276, like the Commission, would be holding companies vying for a state license to vastly different standards. For example, the legislation would require applicants seeking one of the six remaining licenses to meet a litany of requirements, including acquiring a $2 million performance bond. As an attorney for the plaintiffs in several lawsuits pointed out on Tuesday, only one of the nine companies that would be awarded a license under SB276 has met that requirement. 

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A source familiar with the ongoing negotiations within the legislature told APR on Wednesday that a substitute piece of legislation is being crafted that would force the AMCC to award licenses only to the companies that met the original requirements of the medical marijuana law passed by the legislature in 2021. 

When, if ever, this legislation will see light in the Legislature is unclear. But one thing is certain: with speakers referring to SB276 as “poison” and claiming that it turns Alabama into “the wild West” – all with little pushback from lawmakers – the current fix has an uphill climb.

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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