On July 10th, 2023, the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (“AMCC” or “Commission”) held a public meeting, where they not only addressed the misgivings highly publicized by denied applicants regarding their handling of the application process, but also how they intend to take the next steps forward in implementing the Alabama medical cannabis program, so qualified patients can access their medicine as soon as possible.
Prior to the start of their agenda, several Commission members took note of the highly publicized criticism made against their process and strongly defended against any impropriety or incompetence emphasizing the numerous obstacles they overcame to create something entirely from scratch. The Commission honed-in on the fact that the only discrepancy noted was “mathematical inconsistencies,” and that rather than hide those issues, the Commission wanted to be fully transparent by addressing any and all issues at the forefront. As such, the AMCC announced the third-party scoring company that had been chosen to review the University of South Alabama’s scoring criteria and methods, KMPG. KMPG will be reviewing the scorers’ calculations made regarding all ninety (90) applications and is expected to be finished by the end of July prior to the next AMCC meeting. It is not clear as to how many licenses will be impacted, if any, after the scoring is reevaluated.
Further, the Commission members approved of their own stay on the awarding of licenses until their next meeting on August 10th, where they will vote to void the existing license award winners, as well as approve the new licensees based on the scoring data evaluated by KMPG. This step in approval of the stay was to coincide with Montgomery Circuit Judge James Anderson’s issuance of a temporary stay to halt the awarding of licenses until all scoring data issues are resolved.
After their opening remarks, Will Webster provided a legal update regarding the numerous lawsuits already filed against the AMCC. From entering a motion for a temporary restraining order against the Commission’s June 16th meeting stating “the AMCC lacked the authority to suspend the application process” to raising issues on an additional motion for a temporary restraining order regarding the 10-megabyte limitation and scoring criteria used, the Commission has been faced with tumultuous allegations since the awarding of the initial medical marijuana licenses in June. However, the Commission prefaced that the Judge has decided that all challenges thus far are “premature” until the AMCC fixes their internal issues.
A key message emphasized by a majority of the Commission members was their preparedness and readiness to begin serving the Alabama patient population. This was demonstrated in their overview of their administrative status update regarding their compliance program and physician, patient, and caregiver registry led by Scott Absher and Brittany Peters, respectively. Mr. Absher highlighted their creation of on-site inspection forms, work with the Alabama Personnel Department to develop job descriptions for employment outreach, and turnkey set-up of METRC, their state designated seed-to-sale program. Further, Ms. Peters addressed the “all systems go” implementation of the state’s physician certification process, as well as the patient and caregiver registry; however, noting that until all issues with licensure are addressed, they will not be able to begin the certification of physicians nor the registration of patients and/or their caregivers.
Although the Commission’s start of this meeting focused on the heavy criticism from denied applicants and the public, there was no shy away from the internal dilemmas addressed by opposing Commission members. Commissioner Loree Skelton took heavy aim against her colleagues and the application process utilized stating a lack of transparency in the process entirely, honing in on the fact that not only was the Commission not provided a background summary and/or the qualifications of the anonymous scorers who were deemed “experts” in the section(s) of the applications they evaluated, but also was not privy to the criteria the scorers’ utilized to make the recommendations to them. Rather, she emphasized that the Commission was simply just given the scores and recommendations of who was to be licensed without any explanation as to why. Commissioner Skelton’s notion regarding identification of the scorers’ backgrounds and qualifications were agreed upon by Commissioners Dr. Jerzy Szaflarsk and Dr. Eric Jensen, who doubled down that knowing who the anonymous evaluators are would make them more confident in their decisions.
Commissioner Judge Charles Price took it one step further and filed a motion proposing that the AMCC itself select who would be awarded the licenses, starting with the Integrated Facility applicants. However, the motion failed in a roll call vote. Commissioner Skelton continued her brigade by filing a motion to pause the process entirely until the AMCC could implement a different review process to prevent years of litigation; however, her motion failed as well.
Like Alabama’s nearby states such as Florida and Georgia, these are not unusual issues faced when implementing new medical marijuana programs. However, as the AMCC has repeatedly emphasized, the hope is to ensure not only a fair and equitable licensure process, but also to guarantee the patients within their state are not continuing to suffer due to the lack of access to medical marijuana.
If you are interested in finding out the AMCC’s next steps forward, you can attend their August 10th meeting via Zoom, where Commission members will vote to void the previous license awardees and approved of the new licensees based on the third-party reevaluated scoring data: https://amcc.alabama.gov/meetings/