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MONTGOMERY — More than 600 Alabama companies have requested an application to apply for medical marijuana licenses, something at least 90% of them won’t receive due to limits on the number of licenses available.

The state’s new medical cannabis law, passed in May 2021, established the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, a 14-member board authorized to administer and enforce the laws and rules relating to medical cannabis that now can be grown and dispensed in Alabama upon receiving a license.

“The commission has worked diligently to lay the groundwork for the new medical cannabis industry in Alabama by developing administrative rules and regulations and by obtaining necessary software systems,” Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission Director John McMillan said. “We are excited to see the many components of the program come together and provide not only business and career opportunities to Alabamians, but most importantly, we are one step closer to meeting the needs of thousands of residents who suffer from various medical conditions whose symptoms may be alleviated by the proper use of medical cannabis products.”

Under Alabama’s program, registered certifying physicians may recommend medical cannabis to patients who have been diagnosed with specific illnesses including: autism spectrum disorder; cancer-related pain or nausea; Crohn’s Disease; depression; epilepsy or conditions causing seizures; HIV/AIDS-related nausea or weight loss; panic disorder; Parkinson’s Disease; persistent nausea; post-traumatic stress disorder; sickle cell anemia; spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injury; Tourette’s Syndrome; a terminal illness; or conditions causing chronic or intractable pain.

The products will be oral tablet, capsule, tincture, gelatinous cube, gel, oil, cream, patch, suppository, nebulizer and liquid or oil for an inhaler.

Doses of authorized cannabis products are capped at a maximum of 50 milligrams for the first 90 days, and cannot be used in plant, smoking or edible form.

According to the Commission, 607 requests for applications were submitted between the application period Sept. 1-Oct. 17. The applications, due to the commission by Dec. 30, make way for businesses to apply for a license to be and integrated facility, cultivator, processor, secure transporter, state testing laboratory or dispensary.

The process is expected to be very competitive due to the limited number of licenses.

While four licenses will be awarded for a business to operate as a medical cannabis dispensary, 239 business are planning to apply; the commission will award 12 licenses among the 124 business that are planning to apply as a cultivator. More than 130 businesses are looking to apply as an integrated facility — which is allowed to cultivate, process, dispense and sale medical cannabis. Only five licenses will be awarded, with one of them reserved for minorities.

“All of these licenses will have a social equity component along with some will be reserved for minority license holders as well,” said Chey Garrigan, executive director of Alabama Cannabis Industry Association, which has pushed for the medical cannabis legislation.

Licenses are expected to be issued mid-2023.

“I believe we’re going to be standing really firm to that timeline. I don’t see anything, any kind of varying from that timeline at all. I think that we’ll be right on course,” Garrigan said during an Oct. 26 webinar hosted by Dutchie, a cannabis technology platform.

Medical cannabis is not available in Alabama, and like the more than 22,000 Georgians authorized to use medical marijuana, many of them have to get it from states where it is available, or illegally in the state.

Georgia lawmakers authorized the legal possession of up to 20 fluid ounces of cannabis oil (with no more than 5% THC) by persons with qualified medical or health issues in 2015.

But the state has run into several issues since then in enhancing the medical marijuana program to provide patient access.

In 2019, state lawmakers authorized the legal growing of marijuana and Georgia to provide medical marijuana. However, similar to the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission was limited in the number of licenses it could issue.

The Georgia commission was authorized to issue licenses to six companies for the growing, manufacturing and dispensing of low THC oil in Georgia. An estimated 70 companies applied, and the commission issued tentative licenses to six companies last year. The tight limit resulted in lawsuits from applicants that weren’t approved who alleged that the commission’s decision making process may have been unfair and inconsistent in scoring.

South Georgia’s Botanical Sciences and Florida-based Trulieve were officially issued licenses late September, their dispensing of medical cannabis is expected to be delayed amid the lawsuit.

“It’s wild that the solution our state government came up with on medical cannabis is to create monopolies, with competition literally being illegal,” said Blake Bassham, a Georgia native and political activist, in a tweet.

Earlier this year, lawmakers attempted to expand the number of licenses but it failed to clear the legislature before the end of the legislative session in April.

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