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Cannabis Commission to disregard scoring in issuing licenses as part of settlement agreement

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission voted Monday to adopt the terms of a settlement agreement that, commission members hope, will prevent future lawsuits over the state’s rollout of medical marijuana production.

Meeting at the State House, AMCC members were scheduled to hear presentations from ten different organizations, all of them vying for licenses to grow medical marijuana. But first, the commission had one item on its agenda: to ratify the terms of a recently reached settlement agreement.

That agreement was the result of several months’ worth of lawsuits targeting the AMCC over the methods in which it awarded a limited number of licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana in the state.

Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission Attorney Mark Wilkerson.

The commission first awarded licenses in June, but never got the chance to actually issue them after errors were discovered in how applicants were scored. The Montgomery County Circuit Court also issued a stay on any further action from the commission shortly thereafter.

The next several months would see a second failed attempt at issuing licenses, the resignation of the AMCC chairman, as well as additional lawsuits filed against the commission. In October, however, the commission adopted a set of new rules that it hoped would quell the concerns of applicants, rules that generally provided more transparency in the license selection process.

While the new rules did address some concerns expressed by applicants, one matter remained unresolved: whether or not the commission would consider its initial scores given to applicants.

Some applicants, such as Alabama Always, have argued that the scoring process was fundamentally flawed from its inception, and that the commission should disregard the scores in its third attempt to issue licenses. 

As explained by AMCC Attorney Mark Wilkerson, the AMCC had recently reached an agreement with several plaintiffs in what was an “almost day-long mediation process” ordered by Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge James Anderson.

“Not every party to the litigation concurred to the proposed settlement, but those parties that have challenged the scoring are in concurrence with the settlement,” Wilkerson explained.

Under the agreement, a recent court filing asking that the commission be issued another stay on issuing licenses would be dismissed with prejudice – meaning similar lawsuits related to the scoring process would not be heard by the court again – granted, the commission agree to disregard scores when awarding licenses.

“If you ratify this, what you are agreeing to do is not to consider the third-party scoring and related material as part of your deliberations in granting or denying the applications,” Wilkerson told commission members.

With little deliberation, the commission voted unanimously to ratify the terms of the settlement, setting the stage for what members hope to be the third and final awarding of licenses.

After adopting the terms of the settlement, the commission heard hours’ worth of presentations from applicants that had applied for a cultivators license, and is scheduled to hear more presentations throughout the week.

Rex Vaughn, chair of the AMCC, concluded the meeting by thanking former state lawmaker Mike Ball – who was in attendance – for his efforts to legalize medical cannabis nearly a decade ago with the passage of Carly’s Law, a bill that allowed for the study of oil derived from cannabis for medicinal purposes. Ball would go on to commend the AMCC for its efforts to “de-stigmatize cannabis,” telling Alabama Daily News that he felt the commission had found a suitable path forward to getting medical cannabis to patients.

“It appears the commission realizes they made some honest mistakes in their initial effort to find a fair and objective way to select a small number of licensees from a large pool of applicants,” Ball told ADN. “Navigating through this uncharted territory hasn’t been easy, but it appears they’ve found a path that can get them where they need to be.”

On Friday, the commission will award licenses for five of six license categories; cultivation, processor, dispensary, transporter and testing laboratory licenses. 

As explained by AMCC Chair Rex Vaughn, members will individually rank candidates based on their applications and presentations, after which the rankings will be compiled to produce an average ranking. The average rankings will then determine the order by which applicants are voted on in the license award process.

The awarding of integrated facilities licenses – by far the most contested license – will be held on Dec. 12.

According to AMCC spokesperson Brittany Peters, licenses would actually be issued 28 days after being awarded, which would permit the production of medical marijuana in Alabama to begin in early January, save for any further delays. Vaughn has remained confident that there would be no more delays in the process, and predicted medical cannabis products would be available to Alabamians sometime in March at the earliest.

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