Alabama’s Medical Marijuana Rollout Stalls After Commission Freezes Licensing

The commission provided no indication of how long the stay would be in effect.

In a surprising reversal, the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission indefinitely suspended the licensing for cultivators, dispensaries, and other participants in the state’s newly initiated medical marijuana program. The decision came following an emergency meeting held by the commission on Friday.

The license suspension comes after the commission discovered potential discrepancies in the scoring data used to assess applicants – and only days after the commission greenlit 21 applicants to move ahead. According to Dr. Steven Stokes, the commission chair and an oncologist, the discovery led to the recommendation for the stay.

“The stay is recommended due to the (commission’s) discovery of potential inconsistency in the tabulation of scoring data,” Stokes said during the meeting.

Stokes refrained from elaborating on the precise nature of the issue. Similarly, Brittany Peters, a spokeswoman for the commission, said she couldn’t comment further on the matter when reached by The Associated Press.

The commission plans to seek an independent review of all the scoring data. The issuance of licenses will be reconsidered once the stay is lifted. Despite the hold up, Stokes described the situation as a “temporary setback.”

“We’re trying to be honest and fair with everyone. We’ve got to move forward and correct any problems we find. Every state that started a medical marijuana program has had problems. We are no different,” Stokes said.

The impact of the pause on the availability of medical marijuana in Alabama remains unclear. The state’s lawmakers approved the medical marijuana program in 2021, but it has not been fully implemented yet.

Before the stay was issued, officials anticipated that medical marijuana could be available to patients by late 2023 or early 2024.

Still, officials previously expressed concern that the launch could get held up by litigation over the application process. One legal challenge was already filed by one applicant who asked a court to delay the licensing.

The judge in that case had not ruled on the request for a stay as of June 9, the Alabama Daily News reported, which cleared the way for the commission to award permits last Monday. Now, the gavel appears to have finally fallen.

In a statement, commission director John McMillan pledged a swift resolution to the problem, stating, “The Commission will work expeditiously to investigate and identify inconsistencies in the score data.”

According to JD Supra, those who were awarded a license on June 12 will not have to pay the license fee by June 26, as previously required. Similarly, those denied licenses are not mandated to submit a Request for Investigative Hearing form by the same date.

Licenses that were to be issued on July 10 will also not proceed as planned.

The commission said that it won’t provide score data or other materials related to the application process while the stay remains in place.

Once the commission decides to lift the stay, it will reassess applicants and provide specific timelines for the payment of license fees, submission of requests for investigative hearings, and the awarding of licenses.

A limited number of permits were available for the applicant pool:

  • 12 for growers
  • Four for processors
  • Four for dispensaries
  • Five for vertically integrated facilities under state law.

Annual fees range from $30,000 to $50,000 depending on permit type.

Adam Jackson

Adam Jackson writes about the cannabis industry for the Green Market Report. He previously covered the Missouri Statehouse for the Columbia Missourian and has written for the Missouri Independent. He most recently covered retail, restaurants and other consumer companies for Bloomberg Business News. You can find him on Twitter at @adam_sjackson and email him at adam.jackson@crain.com.


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