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Revisions to medical cannabis law could mean lifeline to Russellville-based applicant

After three rounds of medical marijuana licensing have produced multiple lawsuits and legal challenges, the beleaguered Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission may receive some much-needed assistance from the Alabama Legislature.

Sen. Tim Melson, the original sponsor of the state's medical marijuana bill, said he hopes a revision to the law that would allow up to 15 integrated facility licenses, three times the amount of licenses allowed in the original legislation, will be approved by the Alabama Legislature this session.

The latest round of licenses awarded by the commission resulted in immediate lawsuits and a stay of the entire licensing process by the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.

Integrated facility licenses are the 'golden tickets' of Alabama's Medical Cannabis law because they allow the licensee to operate a marijuana growing facility, cultivation facility, manufacturing facility and up to five dispensaries.

When the Darren Wesley “Ato” Hall Compassion Act was approved by legislators in 2021, it created the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to be the oversee the licensing and operation of medical marijuana in the state.

From the first round of licensing, though, there have been legal challenges alleging violations of state law in the selection process that include preferential treatment of certain applicants as well as other intentional and negligent misdeeds by the commission.

Natural Relief Cultivation, LLC, was one of 33 applicants for the five integrated facility licenses. Brian Faught, a co-owner of Natural Relief Cultivation, owns and operates Arkansas' largest medical cannabis dispensary.

Faught met with City of Russellville officials to gauge their interest in having the company locate its cultivation facility, processing site, corporate office and a dispensary in Russellville.

The Russellville City Council would later approve an agreement that would provide land on Highway 24 East to NRC, LLC, either by the company meeting certain benchmarks regarding number of employees, etc. If those were not satisfied, Natural Relief Cultivation would purchase the property for $500,000.

When the commission awarded the five licenses in December, Faught's group was not among those chosen.

Although NRC did not join in a lawsuit filed by a number of integrated facility license applicants who were not chosen, Faught said if the legislature changes the law to increase the number of licenses to be granted, he would be interested in moving forward with the application process yet again.

If they still want to play ball, I'll sure throw a glove in the range,” Faught said. “I'm a realist. If I'm out, I'm out. But if I have a chance we'll move forward. I was stacked with some pretty good Alabama boys.”

Faught said Natural Relief did not join the lawsuit because, to borrow a political phrase, he didn't see a path to victory.

I don't mind spending my time and money, but I've got to see a patch. When the commission took its own second place finisher and twice booted him out of the whole thing, that told me they didn't have a clue. And there are still questions about integrity,” Faught said.

If the number of licenses is expanded, that could be a fast-track resolution to the lawsuits pending against the commission. Melson hopes the legislature will support the expansion as a way to allow medical cannabis to move forward where Alabama residents who qualify can actually begin to receive it.

Sen. Larry Stutts, who represents Franklin County as part of District Six, was a vocal opponent of the legislation and voted against it. Last year, Stutts told the FFP with all the legal challenges and allegations of corruption against the commission, he anticipated a push for the legislature to open up the law where all applicants who qualify could receive licenses.

Although the amendment under consideration this session doesn't go that far, it's right in line with what Stutts expected to occur.

 

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