“We will reevaluate, go through the investigative process and see where we are. So those of you who have not received a license today don’t lose heart. I think there may be another day.”
By Alander Rocha, Alabama Reflector
The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission Thursday re-awarded the licenses for the production and distribution of medical cannabis after questions about the evaluation of applications stopped the process in June.
Nearly all the firms awarded licenses two months ago got them back, and the commission granted additional licenses to firms looking to grow medical cannabis. Rex Vaughn, elected chair of the commission on Thursday, told denied applicants that the commission may have an “appetite” to consider new applications in the future, once they “see where [they] are with the current licenses.”
“We will reevaluate, go through the investigative process and see where we are,” he said. “So those of you who have not received a license today don’t lose heart. I think there may be another day.”
The commission restored licenses to all previous winning applicants except Chicago-based Verano. The commission did not discuss the reason for denying Verano’s application. Members also increased the number of cultivator licenses granted from four to seven.
The commission can award up to 12 licenses to cultivate cannabis, four licenses for those who want to process it and four licenses to dispense the product.
Commissioners may also provide up to five licenses for integrated facilities, which cultivate, process and distribute medical cannabis.
The awards ended a two-month limbo for licenses amid questions about the transparency of scoring applications. Less than a week after announcing the licenses, the commission imposed a stay on awarding licenses, citing “scoring inconsistencies” that would have led to “catastrophic” results if the licenses were issued.
The University of South Alabama brought in evaluators who reviewed the initial license applications.
Lynne Chronister, University of South Alabama’s vice president for research and economic development, and Kristen Roberts, the university’s financial officer, addressed the commission Thursday and said the process was riddled with human errors.
According to Chronister and Roberts, an evaluator entered a score for an integrated facility application twice. That led to wrong scores for applications that fell below the duplicate score.
“As we were summing and averaging those applicants’ scores, it was picking up the wrong two numbers,” said Roberts.
The officials also said there were other errors on data entry, as well as applying the wrong weight to scores; incorrectly averaging scores from evaluators, and a mismatch between the score USA evaluators used to score written assessments.
“I want to emphasize that all of these variances were corrected by the University of South Alabama and have been independently verified by KPMG. We have full confidence in the dataset that has been provided to the Commission,” Roberts said.
The commission attempted to be more transparent during the hearing. Prior to entering an executive session, the attorney representing the commission, William Webster, laid out the items to be discussed in the executive session, and the process for picking the nominating companies for a vote.
He instructed each commission member to unanimously nominate companies for each category, and only those nominated companies would receive a vote in the public meeting.
Vaughn said that the “rules are clear that the commission remains the primary decision maker” with awarding the licenses, and the commission has the “authority to act independently of any third party evaluation and their recommendation.”
“This means that the commission has discretion to act consistently with such evaluation and recommendations,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn said that commission members received the recalculated scores over a week ago and had an opportunity in the executive session to discuss and ask sensitive questions.
“Which is not for public consumption, but relating to the professional services provided by the University of South Alabama,” he said.
The Alabama Legislature approved a medical cannabis program for the state in 2021, but the bill authorizing the program did not allow licenses to be issued until September 1, 2022. The AMCC began accepting applications late last year.
When the product is available, patients certified by participating physicians will be able to use medical cannabis for 15 conditions, including cancer, chronic pain, depression and Parkinson’s Disease. Patients will have to apply for a card to obtain medical cannabis from licensed dispensers.
The law forbids smoking medical cannabis or consuming it in food. It will be available as tablets, capsules, gelatins, oils, gels, creams, suppositories, transdermal patches, or inhalable oils or liquids. Cannabis gummies will only be allowed to be peach-flavored.
Thirty-eight entities applied for integrated facilities licenses. Another 12 applicants vied for the 12 cultivator licenses. Another 12 applied for four available processor licenses, while 18 have applied for the four dispensary licenses.
An unknown number of transport and testing licenses are also available. The commission has received 11 applications for the transport license and three applications for testing licenses.
The commission awarded the same transport licenses as it did in June to Alabama Secure Transport, LLC in Montgomery; International Communications, LLC in Birmingham and Tyler Van Lines, LLC in Troy.
Certus Laboratories in Grand Bay in Mobile was the only firm who was selected for a testing license, as it was in June.
Insa Alabama was the only integrated facility that was not awarded a license in June, but received one Thursday.
I AM FARMS, Greenway Botanicals and CRC of Alabama added to the previous license winners received the three new licenses.
Companies awarded a license will be invoiced and have 14 days to pay a license fee. Likewise, those denied a license have 14 days to request an investigative hearing.
Some observers of the process still had questions. Chey Garrigan, president of the Alabama Medical Cannabis Association, said that it seems like they are trying to address issues, but that only raises more questions.
“Why did one say no? Why did one abstain? Who was nominating who? Now that just opened up a lot more questions,” she said.
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