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Medical cannabis is back in court today

The ongoing medical marijuana litigation resumes today in Montgomery Circuit Judge James Anderson's courtroom. Plaintiffs are suing the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC) over the awards of medical cannabis that occurred back in December. Failed applicants have used the court system to restrain the AMCC from proceeding with the medical cannabis program.

Plaintiffs claim that the commissioners made decisions on application awards in secret meetings in violation of the Alabama Open Meetings Law.

The plaintiffs argue that their applications for marijuana business licenses from the Commission were wrongly rejected in December. They want the awards made at that time revoked and the AMCC to make new awards. The Commission has already vacated the awards made in June and August.

The AMCC grants awards to a limited number of business applicants to: cultivate, process, securely transport, dispense, and for a testing laboratory. There is also a vertically integrated license which allows holders to cultivate, process, transport, and dispense medical cannabis.

Not all the license categories were put on hold by the court. The cultivator awards were allowed to proceed, and those licenses were issued meaning the farmers built those facilities and grew Alabama's first medical cannabis crop.

Native Black Cultivators were awarded a cultivator license, so they spent the money, bought the seed, and grew the plants.

The Alabama Gazette spoke with Antoine Mordican the founder and President of Native Black.

We asked what you can do with marijuana buds when there are no licensed dispensaries or vertically integrated facilities licensed so you can sell it.

"All we can do is freeze it," said Mordican.

We asked if the Commission or the state were providing them with funds to hold them over while the ongoing litigation continues.

"Absolutely not," said Mordican.

Mordican was optimistic that the court would allow the patients to purchase medical cannabis in the near future.

"We hope to hear something today to modify the restraining order to allow some of the dispensary licenses to proceed."

Mordican said that it should not take long for the dispensaries to get up and operational once their licenses were issued.

Chey Garrigan with Alabama Cannabis Industry Association was less optimistic.

"I am disappointed," Garrigan told the Alabama Gazette. "It seems like everybody underestimated how difficult this was going to be."

Only persons with a qualifying medical condition in Alabama can obtain a medical cannabis card and only if recommended by a specially trained doctor. The program on issuing those approvals is on hold pending the resolving of the litigation and the awarding of dispensary licenses.

"There has been no focus on the patients," Garrigan said.

In Friday, June 21 the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals rejected two Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission motions aimed at reducing the length of the trial process that has effectively stalled medical cannabis becoming legally available in the state for months.

The Alabama Legislature passed landmark legislation to legalize medical cannabis in 2021. On June 12, 2023, the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC) awarded the first medical cannabis licenses; yet not one Alabamian has been issued a medical cannabis card to lawfully purchase cannabis. Those awards were vacated by the AMCC. On August 10 and replaced with new awards. The August awards were vacated in October and new awards were made in an attempt to settle plaintiffs' lawsuits. New awards were made in December and still there are more lawsuits – some of them from business entities that received awards in June and/or August but were left out in the Commission's do-over in December – now there is talk in some circles in Montgomery that some of those awards could also be vacated.

The AMCC had petitioned the court to issue a writ of mandamus directed to the Montgomery Circuit Court compelling the circuit court to vacate two orders that it entered in the ongoing marijuana litigation. The appellate court dismissed the petition as moot.

The AMCC had sought a writ of mandamus rejecting plaintiffs' lawsuits saying that the failed marijuana applicants had not exhausted all of their administrative rights of appeal before filing suit. The court rejected that order.

The case was referred back to Judge James Anderson's Montgomery circuit court, where plaintiffs want to be able to depose the members of the commission.

Garrigan said that it may take additional legislation to finally get medical cannabis to the patients.

"It doesn't seem like there is a path forward in the courts," Garrigan said.

"We are working on drafting legislation," Garrigan said.

Proposed legislation would increase the number of license awards. Under the 2021 law creating the Alabama medical cannabis industry, the Commission can only award a maximum of five vertically integrated licenses. 36 business groups applied for those five. The AMCC was limited to just four dispensary licenses in the state.

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