Alabama lawmakers push to expand number of licenses to grow, sell Medical Marijuana

Alabama lawmakers push to expand number of licenses to grow, sell Medical Marijuana

Analysts and companies say they are expecting 2025 to be a boom year if Florida and Pennsylvania can legalize recreational marijuana.

A new bill that would significantly increase the number of licenses Alabama could award to companies to grow and sell medical marijuana was met with considerable opposition Wednesday, much to the disappointment of the bill’s sponsor and supporters.

Sen. David Sessions, R-Grand Bay, said Senate Bill 276 is an effort to satisfy the companies that sued the state over its license awarding process.

The Senate Agriculture Committee had a public hearing on the bill and did not take a vote. With the state’s rollout of medical marijuana still held up in litigation and having been delayed several times, Sessions’ opening comments painted a picture of frustration for lawmakers over the process.

“The medical cannabis legislation we passed in 2021, it has yet to have one doctor prescribe anything for one patient, it is still hung up in court,” Sessions said. 

“This is just a (piece) of legislation trying to see light at the end of the tunnel and get this to patients who need it. Is this the fix? I do not know.”

The majority of the 15 individuals who spoke at the public hearing did so in opposition of the bill, several warning of unintended consequences of market oversaturation.

“We are always worried about diversion when products aren’t sold: where do they end up?” said Warren Cobb, an attorney speaking on behalf of Sustainable Alabama, one of the five companies awarded an integrated facilities license.

“If you look at New York right now, most of the cannabis or marijuana in New York is coming from Oklahoma because they have an oversaturated market, and that’s exactly what this bill would create here.”

Others, such as John Blackmon, an attorney representing CCS of Alabama, which was awarded a dispensary license, warned of the precedent the bill would set, arguing that expanding the number of licenses could embolden companies in the future to file lawsuits against the state to enact legislative change.

The vice chair of the committee, Sen. Jack Williams, R-Wilmer, expressed disappointment in much of the public comment, characterizing it as being “against the free market.”

“As a farmer, which several of us are, we have to take what we can get for our soybeans, our corn, our cotton, peanuts and everything,” Williams said. “Then I hear five people or so wanting to control the whole market. I just don’t believe that’s right.”

Sessions, who used to be a cotton farmer, said it didn’t escape him that most of those speaking against the bill had all been awarded licenses, and mirrored Williams’ comments in expressing his disappointment in the opposition.

“I’m a little disappointed myself as to the amount of our folks who have been granted a license that, once they have their ball, they don’t want anybody else to play with it,” Sessions said.

“We would think we would want to live in a free market enterprise. I believe in the free market, I believe the best of the best are going to survive, I do believe that.”

The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, the appointed body responsible for selecting which companies to issue licenses, awarded its first round of licenses in June of 2023. Issues with scoring data, lawsuits and other problems led to that first round of license awards being revoked.

After one more failed attempt, the AMCC awarded licenses for the third time last December, this time sticking to its selection and expecting medical cannabis to be in the hands of patients sometime by March of 2024. Continued litigation, however, continues to stall the rollout of medical marijuana to this day.

Were lawmakers to not take any legislative action to resolve the issue, Sessions warned that litigation could continue to delay the state’s rollout of medical marijuana for years. As for those who spoke in opposition to the bill, Sessions said his sole concern was getting products to patients as quickly as possible.

“We’ve got a problem we need to try and address; is the court going to do it?” he said. 

“If they do it, it won’t be within the next year or two, (so) this first crop that you have growing? Just get ready to throw it away, or process it and freeze it, because you’re not going to have anyone to sell it to.”

“Just send it to me,” muttered Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, an advocate for decriminalization of marijuana, followed by an explosion of laughter in the room.

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Region: Alabama

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