The Alabama Senate Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee (SACFC) recently passed a bill to finally get the state’s medical cannabis program rolling.

Sen. Tim Melson is the legislator who sponsored Senate Bill 46 three years ago, which eventually was passed into law as the Medical Cannabis Act 2021-450 after Gov. Kay Ivey signed it in May 2021.

Most recently, Melson introduced Senate Bill 306 on April 9 to push the program forward after years of delays. “We got this done in three years,” Melson said of his legislation. “It’s taken this long to get this to the patients who are out there that need it, and it’s just time to correct this course and get them something to help them in their illness.”

According to Alabama Daily News, Melson believes that the program needs to restart in order to correct various issues. “We tried to find a solution to getting a product to market, but this goes back to the old joke: you got one job, and you blew it,” said Melson. “The commission had one mission, and they have not executed it. I think in the best interest of this program, we need to start from scratch, we need to throw [out] every license applicant that received [a license]. This bill just wipes the slate clean.”

Currently, the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC) can only license five “integrated facility licenses” to cultivate, process, and sell medical cannabis. According to The Birmingham News, more than 30 companies have applied for a license.

If SB-306 is passed, it would create a three-step process to approving licenses. First, a five-member panel (appointed by the Alabama Securities Commission) will decide if an applicant is eligible for a license. This includes basic information such as residency verification, background checks, business plan, and proof of capital.

Second, the review panel will determine if the applicant can get cultivation and dispensing operations going within 60 days of receiving a license, and also must be able to dispense cannabis products to five sites within six months of receiving a license. All cannabis must be grown “using artificial light exclusively or as a supplement to natural sunlight,” and cannot be grown outdoors or directly in the ground. Other criteria such as a structure plan and security detail. 

And finally, the AMCC will provide scores to rank which applicants are most eligible for a license.

Additionally, only applicants that applied for an integrated license prior to December 2022 would be eligible under SB-306.

So far within the past 10 months, the AMCC has only awarded three licenses. Part of the reason for this includes procedural problems, as well as ongoing lawsuits that have prevented licenses from being granted.

Even still, some cannabis business owners aren’t supportive of Melson’s bill. Specialty Medical Products CEO Ray French told The Birmingham News that SB-306 is a setback. “Once the commission took the time to get to know the candidates and actually vet them, see them and understand who they are, they made a decision based on all of the information given to them and picked who they thought were the best candidates to move this needle forward,” French said.

French’s company applied and failed to receive a license during the first two rounds of license awards in June and August 2023, but was approved in December 2023. However, none of the chosen applicants have actually received a license due to the ongoing lawsuits, which have placed license approval on hold. “They picked what they felt like were the most qualified candidates,” said French. “And to start over to favor other candidates for whatever reasons and to take away all the control from the commission members themselves is only a setback. It is an unnecessary do-over and a setback and is going to delay the program to the point where it may never take off.”

Attorney Will Somerville, representing Alabama Always, which has not yet been approved for a license, said that his client is more supportive of the idea. “Senator Melson did a remarkable job in 2021 helping Alabamians get access to cannabis for their medical needs,” said Somerville. “The Cannabis Commission has had three years to get this program going and it’s still dead in the water. The Commission did not follow the law and the Courts halted the process. Senator Melson has stepped up again this Session with a Bill that will break the logjam and get this medicine to folks that need it.”

Aside from the SACFC approving SB-306, it also approved Senate Bill 276 (introduced by Sen. David Sessions) as well. If passed, it would address various AMCC licensing issues, such as increasing the number of integrated licenses to up to 10. However, The Birmingham Newsreported that those who spoke at the recent meeting opposed SB-276.

In response to Melson’s bill, Sessions explained that they both have similar goals. “I know where your heart is and I think we’re aligned,” Sessions commented. “Our main goal is to try and get this out of court and get it up and running.”

 [[{“value”:”The goal of Senate Bill 306 is to “start from scratch” regarding cannabis licensing, which would mean invalidating any previous license approvals and starting over.
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