The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC) is set to begin implementation of the state's new medical marijuana industry, according to former State Rep. Mike Ball (R-Madison).
The commission and its staff have been targets of lawsuits, mostly from unsuccessful applicants, since first awarding licenses to 21 companies in June. The commission revoked those licenses and issued a second round to mostly the same companies in August. The annual license fees range from $30,000 to $50,000, depending on the type.
Ball, one of the sponsors of legislation that passed in 2021 that legalized and regulated medical cannabis, told 1819 News in a recent interview, "By design, this commission does not have as many lawyers and politicians as maybe a lot of other commissions do."
"It's medical heavy, agriculture heavy. There's not a great deal of political savvy with the exception of (AMCC Director) John McMillan; you know he's been around a long time," he continued. "The big problem is there's too many very well-qualified people who could do this but not enough slots for the licenses. I understand why the Legislature limited the slots. They were afraid of this. They wanted to tippy-toe into it."
Ball said the Commission wants to get the licenses issues as quickly as it can, which can't be done without some litigation.
"You're always going to have losers and losers are always going to be against whatever you're going to do," he said. "You're going to have some litigation. I think that the commission has done the best they could. I think at some point they need to bite the bullet and issue the licenses to who they can as much as they can and if there's litigation then get through it as quick as we can. It's time for us to take the next step. People have waited and suffered too long already. It's really time for us to move forward. Whenever there's winners and losers, there's always going to be somebody pointing their finger (and) blaming something else. Quite frankly there's no such thing, I don't think, as a perfect bureaucratic process. They all have flaws to it. I think the commission they've just done the best they could under the circumstances and they need to go ahead and issue the licenses to who they can. They need to do what the Legislature asked them to do. I know they're trying, but it's time for them to start pushing the process forward."
With the amount of fear and concern around introducing medical cannabis to Alabama, Ball said the government has to get involved to help regulate.
"How much government is too much or not enough? That's a big argument," he said. "We need the commission to go ahead and get the next step which is issuing licenses. People need to start growing, they need to start producing, (and) they need to start registering the patients that need it. It's not a perfect process, but it's the best we can do under the circumstances, and quite frankly as it goes forward there will always be tweaks."
AMCC is currently under a temporary restraining order by Montgomery County Circuit Judge James Anderson and can't move forward until that changes. Anderson is set to hear multiple motions on Tuesday afternoon from attorneys for companies that have been awarded licenses and those that haven't. The AMCC also has a meeting scheduled for Thursday, where they'll apparently consider changes to certain rules and the evaluation process.
Dr. Steven Stokes, former chair of the AMCC, recently told the Red State Rundown podcast the successful and unsuccessful applicants likely wouldn't be able to come to an agreement in their negotiations.
"The Judge told both sides to sit down and work it out. Well, that's impossible. How can you work it out? The problem is you've got a license, they don't have one, and they want one. There's no way to work it out," Stokes said on the podcast. "We just need to go forward. We went through the process. Let's let it go forward and let those people who didn't get a license complain or talk to their legislators and add some more licenses if that's what they want to do. Let us go forward. I just hope Judge Anderson does that. It would have to go to the Legislature and I'm not sure the Legislature would want to get back into this again."
Stokes continued, "We've got to get going. That's what's so frustrating. I've been dealing with this for almost four years now."
"My concern is the commission. I know them all. They're good, honorable people. I'm afraid they're going to be subpoenaed and harassed and finally just give up and say, 'I'm resigning. I can't deal with this.' They don't get paid anything. I think I got paid $12 round trip to go to Montgomery. That's what I'm concerned of is the commission is going to just get tired, fed up, and quit," Stokes said. "Judge Anderson I hope will stand up and say, 'Look, a lot of these complaints have no bearing, have no merit…and we need to let the process go forward, and that's just the way it is.' I don't know if that's going to happen in Montgomery. He's got friends and supporters on both sides of the issue, and he's wanting everybody to kind of work it out. Well, there's no way to work it out. We've only got five licenses, and we've got all these people that didn't get them."
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