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‘Start getting your cards and be ready:’ Alabama awards final medical marijuana licenses

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission awarded licenses to five companies Tuesday for the exclusive rights to grow, process, transport and sell medical marijuana.

Earlier this month, the commission awarded licenses in five of six categories, licenses that permitted recipients to perform just one step in the medical marijuana production process such as transportation or growing. Tuesday’s meeting saw the commission award the most-sought after license, the integrated facility license, which permits recipients to perform every step in the process of producing medical marijuana. There were 33 applicants.

With a limit of just five, per state law, the following companies were awarded an integrated facilities license:

An applicant speaks with Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission Chair Rex Vaughn.

Tuesday marked the third time the commission had tried to issue such licenses, with previous efforts getting stalled by a flurry of lawsuits from applicants unsatisfied with the selection process

Now, after six months of attempting to issue licenses that saw the commission adopt a new set of rules and a new chair to quell applicants’ concerns, members hope this latest set of license awards will be their last.

Ray French, co-founder of Specialty Medical Products of Alabama, told Alabama Daily News after his company was awarded a license that they were fully prepared to be operational within 60 days, and that patients should start their preparations to purchase medical marijuana now.

“We’re ready to go, we already have the facilities, we have everything in place, and we absolutely will be able to supply the market,” French said. “We really encourage people that need this medicine to go ahead and start getting your cards and be ready.”

Specialty Medical Products has five dispensaries across the state, French said, with locations in Montgomery, Troy, Opelika, Foley and Bayou La Batre.

William Somerville, an attorney for Alabama Always, a company that was not awarded a license, said it was unclear what action his client may wish to pursue, which could include requesting of the commission an investigative hearing on the decision.

“I can say personally that I think we have the only facility that’s ready to go, that’s ready to really commence cultivation within 60 days, process quickly and get the product out to people, so we’re just going to have to evaluate what happened,” Somerville told ADN.

“We don’t know what happened, we’ll have to assess what happened, regroup and see what to do.”

The chair of the commission, Rex Vaughn, told ADN that companies awarded licenses will undergo on-site inspections over the next two weeks before actually being issued their license, inspections that will ensure the facilities are consistent with their applications. Were a license recipient’s facility to not pass inspection, Vaughn said the commission would handle such matters on a case-by-case basis, which could include the revocation of the license.

“It was a milestone for us, maybe the third time will be the charm,” Vaughn said. “We’re getting tired of swinging, we want to hit the ball and get it in the outfield, and I think today, maybe, will get us that far, so we’ll see how the next two weeks go with our investigative process.”

Vaughn said that the integrated facility licenses will be issued in early January, and anticipated medical marijuana hitting shelves sometime during spring of 2024.

As to the five-month period of awarding licenses just to rescind them days later, Vaughn said it had been a challenge, but that he was optimistic that medical marijuana producers could finally move forward with bringing the product to market.

“It was challenging for the commission to go through this process because we had so many really good ones to choose from,” he said. 

“I, myself, had some top picks that did not make it, so I’m somewhat disappointed for those, but I think that shows that we have got a team effort going; each commission member has a role to play, a vote to cast, and that’s how our decisions were made today.”

In 2021, lawmakers approved the use of limited marijuana products, including gummies, oils and patches, to treat specific illnesses. Users will need approval from their physicians before buying the products.

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