MONTGOMERY — State Sen. David Sessions (R-Grand Bay) filed legislation Tuesday increasing the number of some types of medical cannabis business licenses available in Alabama.

The bill would increase the number of licenses the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC) issues to six processor licenses, seven dispensary licenses and 15 integrated facility licenses to eligible applicants. The bill would also make the issuance of the specified number of licenses mandatory rather than discretionary and void the rescission of licenses and the denial of license applications for certain applicants that were previously acted on by the commission. 

Under existing law, AMCC may issue no more than four processor licenses and dispensary licenses and no more than five integrated facility licenses to eligible applicants. Integrated facilities are the most sought-after type of license from applicants because it allows a company to sell, transport, dispense, process, and cultivate medical cannabis.

Alabama legislators passed a medical marijuana legalization bill in 2021. The AMCC awarded licenses three times in June, August, and December 2023. However, lawsuits by unsuccessful applicants have stalled the implementation of the law.

"The main two goals for me, from my perspective, is trying to get it out of court and get it started and get it into the hands of people that need it," Sessions told 1819 News.

"They're hung up in court. There were four companies that were awarded licenses either twice or once in previous rounds. This legislation would basically give them a license and then allow for licenses for more integrated growers. Now, fifteen is probably too many but we just put a number in there to see where we land. I'm good at landing at 10 or 11 or 12 or less because I just don't think we need that many right now," Sessions said. "I don't know what the real need is out there. I do not support marijuana whatsoever, but I do support medicine. This is about trying to get medicine to people that need it. I have a 27-year-old that's paralyzed from the waist down. The only thing that will stop his tremors and his muscle spasms in his legs and body is medical cannabis. I say the only thing, there may be other things but that's what he uses and has to use. He can't even get it in Alabama legally right now because it's stuck in court."

Sessions continued, "The companies that have licenses, they're probably against me and against this but honestly this would be better than them sitting there in court for another four years doing nothing. How long are they going to be in court? At least this gives an opportunity to expedite it and get it moving faster."

An attorney for Alabama Always, a company that has unsuccessfully sought an integrated facility license and is currently suing AMCC, said the bill was "worse than the status quo."

"Senate Bill 276 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. In fact, this bill is even worse than the status quo," Will Somerville, an attorney for Alabama Always, told 1819 News. "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. All but two of the nine companies do not meet the basic statutory requirements set forth by the original medical cannabis legislation. 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. This bill will not settle any of the ongoing controversy or litigation. Legislation should be developed that will fix the major flaws in the commission's actions and allow legitimate companies that followed the law to begin to provide products to Alabamians who desperately need it. This bill does the opposite."

Patrick Dungan, an attorney representing Southeast Cannabis, said, "The bill introduced today provides a path forward to getting needed medication to patients and issuing licenses to those entities who had previously been granted licenses by the state." 

"This would also eliminate costly litigation and provide denied applicants with a meaningful opportunity for administrative review. Absent a legislative solution like this it could take years to unravel these problems," Dungan said.

AMCC awarded and then rescinded an integrated facility license to Southeast Cannabis in June and August. AMCC didn't award them a license in December.

Companies awarded licenses in the most recent round in December hope litigation will be resolved soon without additional legislation. In March, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals stayed all proceedings on litigation surrounding the medical cannabis law until Montgomery County Circuit Judge James Anderson decides on a pending motion to dismiss. A hearing on the motion to dismiss is tentatively scheduled within the next few weeks.

Joey Robertson, president and CEO of Wagon Trail Med-Serv, told 1819 News in an interview, "I think the light at the end of the tunnel on litigation is already getting closer. I do not think that this bill is going to solve all of the litigation problems, but I think those are winding down anyway."

"The reality is Alabama doesn't need more licenses. The current licensees can supply enough medical cannabis to the market of Alabama which is probably not going to be fully matured for a few years anyway," Robertson said. "The current licensees can produce enough product for the state of Alabama until an expansion may be warranted years from now." 

The initial patient population for medical cannabis in Alabama will likely be around 15,000, according to Specialty Medical Products of Alabama CEO Ray French.

French, whose company was awarded an integrated facility license in December, told 1819 News increasing the cap on integrated facility licenses was too much for the Alabama market.

"It's such a bad idea. It's going to open so many cans of worms. The intent I think is good. I think they're trying to do the right thing, the people that sponsored the bill. It's got a lot of unintended circumstances. Primarily, there's not going to be near enough patients. There's barely going to be enough patients for the people that are already in the program with the five verticals," French said. "You start talking about tripling that and going to what's it going to be 15 licensed vertical operations? Any one vertical, I could produce enough product to supply every single patient for the entire first year of the program in about three weeks of run time with the facility I have right now already. They're going to put everybody in an oversupply and it's not going to be worth investing in."

Sessions said the bill will get a public hearing in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. However, the bill won't be voted on this week.

State Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper) told reporters on Tuesday, "I think you've got some challenge with some of this legislation in both directions."

"Do we change what we've already done? We'll have members that aren't interested in that. Do we modify it in some ways to allow for there to be others to receive a license? Is that what the Legislature is wanting to do? I don't know," Reed said. "We're just going to have to see. I think the issue here is that we wanted this to be a topic that we moved forward with. It has not been able to move forward and as a result, what is the Legislature's role? We're just going to have to talk that through and understand where we are."

Brittany Peters, an AMCC spokeswoman, said in a statement, "We are aware of the bill introduced by Senators Sessions and Melson, and we have forwarded the bill to commissioners for their review." 

"The longstanding position of the Commission is that it wishes to see Alabama's medical cannabis program become operational, without further delay, to serve patients in the state," Peters said. "To the extent that this can be facilitated by legislation, the Commission stands ready to be a resource to the Legislature."

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