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Alabama Courts Again Delay State’s Medical Marijuana Rollout

Are you waiting for the rollout of Alabama’s medical marijuana program? Don’t hold your breath. Alabama courts are again putting a hold on the state’s plans to start a medical marijuana program. It is the latest in a string of delays plaguing the medical marijuana program that the Alabama Legislature authorized back in 2021. The hope was that the program would be up and running by the end of last year. However, continued setbacks and litigation mean patients looking for relief via medical marijuana are stuck in limbo.

What’s the hold-up? In the deep-red Southern state, the answer is complicated. Some advocates call Alabama “a complete standout.”

Medical Marijuana Stalled Again

Alabama’s medical marijuana program is again on the back burner thanks to Alabama courts. Within the last seven months, the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission has attempted to award medicinal cannabis licenses twice. Twice, the agency has had to rescind the licenses after getting sued in court by losing cannabis applicants. In December 2023, the agency attempted to allot licenses to medicinal businesses, only to be sued yet again. The legal shenanigans are stalling the rollout of the state’s medical marijuana program and proving to be a financial and legal headache for the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission and the state.

A Colorado-based attorney working with a veteran Black Alabama horticulturist in the state calls Alabama “a complete standout.” His client, Oliver Washington IV, owns the company Southeast Cannabis Company. The company was awarded a license in one of the first two rounds of licensing decisions. However, they were not awarded a license during the latest round of licensing decisions. Attorney Brian Vicente says that states typically have a well-thought-out program with rules and regulations that they can defend and implement. He claims that while Alabama may have a well-defined plan, they are not defending it, allowing the medicinal cannabis industry to languish years after passing the original medical marijuana legislation.

What’s Going On in Alabama?

What’s going on in Alabama, and what’s with all the lawsuits? In business owner Oliver Washington’s case, he is suing the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission because the agency issued Washington a medical marijuana business license in June. His company, Southeast Cannabis Company, paid the agency a $50,000 license fee at the time. However, he never received his license. He has since joined ten other cannabis companies, challenging the latest round of licensing decisions made by the AMCC. Why? They say there is an arbitrary nature to the latest license allocations. They claim the first two rounds of decisions were based on third-party, blind scores from the University of Southern Alabama. Using this blind system was supposed to protect against the appearance of misconduct and corruption associated with similar programs in other jurisdictions.

Unfortunately, after the second round of licensing and litigation from other businesses, the Commission agreed to throw out previous scores from the first two licensing rounds. They passed emergency rules dictating how the third licensing round would be conducted. The emergency rules dictated that each applicant must make a presentation to cannabis regulators. Many businesses that had been through the first two initial rounds of licensing called the new rules a “dog and pony show.” Many of the businesses selected in the first two rounds were excluded from being issued a license in the third round of decisions after the AMCC rescinded the awards due to disputes over the selection process.

Attorneys for the companies spurred in the third round who initially received licenses from the AMCC say their clients are only looking for an opportunity to have their voices heard, especially after being denied a license when they previously achieved high marks and were awarded a license twice before in initial rounds.

Due to the pending litigation over the third licensing round, the court granted temporary restraining orders that prevent the Commission from issuing licenses for dispensaries. The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, frustrated over the court’s decision, asked the court to deny the plaintiff’s motion for a permanent preliminary injunction. However, the court delayed the hearing on the preliminary injunction until the end of February.

With pending lawsuits waiting in the wings, there seems to be no clear timeline for when regulators may move forward with issuing medical cannabis licenses.

Where Does Medical Marijuana Stand in Alabama?

There is a lot of confusion over medical marijuana in Alabama right now. Only dispensaries and vertically integrated cannabis businesses are suing over the third round of licenses. The AMCC has issued licenses to other companies selected to cultivate, transport, and test cannabis. Producers are making cannabis products for medical marijuana patients. However, the litigation and delay in issuing licenses means there are no retailers to sell those products. Soon, Alabama may have the plants, with nowhere to sell them. Depending on the results of the February 28th hearing and potential appeals, it could take months before medical marijuana licensing gets back on track and dispensaries can finally open their doors.

It’s a long time coming for Alabama, a conservative state that authorized medical cannabis in 2021 for conditions including chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson’s Disease, and depression. Alabama was one of the first states in the Deep South to legalize medicinal marijuana after seeing nearly 74 percent of neighboring Mississippi voters approving a medical marijuana initiative in 2020. Since legalizing medical cannabis, cannabis entrepreneurs have struggled to get businesses started in the state, citing the AMCC’s rigorous application process.

Initially, applicants had to submit detailed drawings of HVAC and plumbing systems and show that they had at least $250,000 in the bank. Some applicants worried about corruption and “back-room deals” but were relieved to see the state using a merit-based, blind scoring system to choose who would receive licenses. Unfortunately, when the AMCC backed down from its original stance and issued new emergency rules for a third round of license awards, appearances of fairness flew out the window. Time will tell whether litigation settles the dispute or only leads to more questions and more waiting.

Do you want to know when Alabama will move forward with medicinal cannabis? What about other cannabis-related news and stories? Check out Cannabutter Digest for cannabis newsrecipes, and product reviews.


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