Hope persists for denied medical cannabis license applicants as stay calls for transparency

Criticism of Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission continues because of stay and the evaluation process

By: - June 21, 2023 9:01 am
A row of cannabis plants in a greenhouse.

A cannabis farm greenhouse. The director of the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission resigned on Thursday, saying he did not want the commission to get bogged down in a lawsuit. (Getty Images)

Applicants who were denied a license to be part of the new medical cannabis market are holding out hope to still receive one after the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission delayed awarding the licenses to investigate how the applications were evaluated.

Antoine Mordican is the CEO of Native Black Cultivation, one of the companies denied a license in the initial evaluation. The company cultivates cannabis that would be processed into therapeutics. He hoped that his company would have been the first African American-owned company to grow medical cannabis in Alabama.

“With myself being a minority-owned company, it was a little disheartening, but overall, I was still excited to see the program, everything moves forward,” he said after learning his company’s application was denied. “When I actually saw the stay come out, it was pretty encouraging – I’ll say just to get a second look from the Commission.”

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There isn’t much information on how the Commission will pick a third party to evaluate the scores and application, but he said he hopes the process for picking a third party will be more transparent.

“I think that’d be a little bit fairer and more equitable for individuals, versus them just picking somebody to evaluate the application,” Mordican said.

Brittany Peters, spokesperson for the AMCC, declined to give more details about the stay, but said they are still working on the selection process for a third-party evaluator.

The Commission has been criticized for ordering the stay because it further delays what will already be a long process while also getting complaints about the process itself.

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said that these delays are only going to continue to “tax their patience and delay their access even longer.”

“Those in Alabama, who can benefit therapeutically from cannabis, have already shown undue patience in waiting for legal access to this medicine,” Armentano said.

He said that some states’ laws regarding medical cannabis are patient specific, but that Alabama’s laws do not fit that description. They are not drafting laws and regulations that seek to provide cannabis to the greatest number of people, he said, who could potentially benefit from it.

“When you look at a law like Alabama’s – not particularly unlike many of the medical cannabis or very limited medical cannabis laws associated with other southeastern states – we see a law that is not necessarily putting the interests of patients first,” Armentano said.

He added that law does not allow patients to cultivate their own cannabis, for example, which would be a lower cost alternative for those who choose to do so. There are significant limitations on the variety of forms of cannabis products that are going to be available to patients.

For instance, they’re not allowed to possess or inhale herbal cannabis, which he said is “obviously the most long standing and most well understood form of cannabis available.” He said it is “arguably” the most effective because it is the fastest acting and it allows patients to self-regulate their dosage.

Armentano said that Alabama would be one of the few states that impose a state sales tax on the sale of medicinal cannabis products.

“Virtually no medical states do that because there is a recognition that we don’t try to raise tax revenue from the sick and ill,” Armentano said.

Mordican said he does not like that there’s a delay for the patients since those are the ones who the “program is really for and who needs the medicine.”

“However, I understand – no, I appreciate the transparency that the commission has attempted to give off. Even to recognize the potential inconsistency and actually calling themselves out on that, in my opinion, that’s unheard of,” he said.

Mordican hopes that the new evaluation will provide him with more clarity regarding his denial. He followed all criteria provided by the application, and he wants to know if there was a benchmark he didn’t meet.

The commission could award 12 licenses, and 12 companies submitted an application for a cultivation license.

Of the 12 possible licenses, the commission only selected four.

“What was the required threshold that needed to be achieved to actually be considered for a license,” Mordican said. “Because just based off my experience – being in the industry and noticing how other states did it – as well with them only being limited to give 12 cultivation licenses, which was pretty no brainer for the cultivation sector because only 12 folks applied.”

With the AMCC putting a stay on the licensing process, he is hopeful he won’t have to apply for a license in the future.

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Alander Rocha
Alander Rocha

Alander Rocha is a journalist based in Montgomery, and he reports on government, policy and healthcare. He previously worked for KFF Health News and the Red & Black, Georgia's student newspaper. He is a Tulane and Georgia alumnus with a two-year stint in the U.S. Peace Corps.

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