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Roy S. Johnson: How many minority firms were awarded cannabis licenses this time?


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I can’t tell you if I’m going to be writing this again. Wish I could. Wish I could tell you the folks charged with awarding licenses in Alabama to companies that will play a role in getting medical cannabis into our hands (at some point) got it right this time. The third time. I can’t.


For now, I can only say this: Last Friday, the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, in their third go-round, awarded licenses to cultivate, process, test, transport and sell marijuana products to 20 companies.


Licenses were previously awarded in June and August, yet each of those rounds was nullified by AMCC miscues—like using third-party evaluators with potential conflicts and votes taken behind the shadiness of closed doors without companies being able to state their case before the group—and, oh, a plethora of lawsuits by aggrieved non-awardees.


This time, after a settlement allowing a new round of evaluations and awards under agreed-upon conditions (like making the voting public, something too often anathema to public officials, boards, and agencies in this state), the AMCC may have finally gotten it right.


May have finally started the clock—for real this time, after a six-month fumble—on when medical marijuana products like gummies, tablets, capsules, tinctures, patches, oils, and other forms allowed by the legislation may finally be accessible to Alabamians suffering from chronic pain or myriad other conditions and symptoms. (You’ll need a doctor’s signoff for a medical marijuana card.)


So maybe I won’t have to write this again: Not only is providing access to medical cannabis a what-took-us-so-long no-brainer—39 states, including us, have approved production and usage of medical marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.—it is also imperative that minority firms not be left out this new Oklahoma Land Rush or Californian Gold Rush.


By 2028, just four years and couch-change from now, cannabis is projected to be a $70 billion business. Last year, it accounted for 428,059 full-time jobs, according to the 2022 Leafly Jobs Report. The dearth of minority participation thus far in this geyser of new wealth has been a source of frustration nationwide since California became the first state to legalize marijuana in 1996.


African American entrepreneurs, for instance, account for less than two percent of cannabis business owners in the nation, according to the 2021 Leafly Jobs Report. That’s worse than in 2017 when 4.3% were Black. (That year 81% of cannabis business owners were white, 5.7% Hispanic, and 2.4% Asian.)


“The cannabis industry must show true commitment to equity as it expands, so the wealth generated by this new opportunity will uplift minority communities,” the 2021 reports stated. “If it cannot we will continue to see these communities struggle in the shadow of white supremacy without a fair shot.”


Fortunately—and amazingly in these unique times—minority participation in our nascent cannabis industry is mandated by the state law, passed in 2021, making it legal to grow and distribute medical marijuana in Alabama. At least a quarter of the awardees in all but one category (integrated facility) must be at least 51% minority-owned—defined as individuals of African American, Native American, Hispanic, or Asian descent, according to the law.


So how did the AMCC 3.0 do?


Five of those licenses awarded last week went to companies that qualified as majority owned by members of an historically underserved group. That’s three fewer than were awarded to minority-owned companies in August, one fewer than were awarded in June.


Yes, I wrote both of the linked stories in the above paragraph. So, here we go again: These are the five minority companies now with licenses are (applications—most are heavily redacted—are linked): I AM FARMS (cultivator), Native Black Cultivation (cultivator) 1819 Labs (processor), GP6 Wellness (dispensary) and Pick Up My Things (secure transporter).


Birmingham-based XLCR, which was awarded a secure transporter license in August, was not among the awardees in the category last week.


There’s one caveat to this total: Last week, the AMCC did not announce companies being awarded integrated licenses, which allow a company to cultivate, process, transport, and sell medical cannabis products. That category was the source of most of the legal fire. Those licenses will be awarded on Dec. 12. There are 38 integrated license applicants; the law caps integrated awardees at five.


In the last round, two minority-owned integrated companies—TheraTrue Alabama, LLC and Southeast Cannabis Company, LLC were awarded licenses.


For now, at least two of the awardees are pleased and hopeful.


“Being a minority-owned business and securing a license in the burgeoning cannabis industry in Alabama is a significant achievement,” shared Allen Forrest, owner of Pick Up My Things. “This presents a valuable opportunity to participate in a growing market, contributing to the economic landscape and paving the way for further diversity and inclusivity within the industry.”


Back in August, Antoine Mordican, CEO of Native Black Farm, which has been growing hemp at its Jefferson County facility since 2020, told me it was “disheartening” to be denied a license a second time.


He’s now “encouraged” that the commission was “able to acknowledge how we can serve as an asset to the people of Alabama,” he shared with me over the weekend.


“I am excited to work with the commission, the Department of Agriculture and look forward to providing evolving insight into our new emerging industry.”


“This diverse allocation of licenses is a positive step in addressing historical inequalities in drug policy enforcement and ensuring equitable participation in a growing industry,” added Forrest. “It reflects a commitment to inclusive economic growth and represents an opportunity for minority entrepreneurs to contribute significantly to the emerging medical cannabis market in Alabama.


To obtain a medical marijuana product to treat chronic pain or myriad other conditions and symptoms, you’ll need a recommendation from a doctor.


Companies awarded licenses have until Dec. 15 to pay their fees. Companies denied licenses have until the same date to request a hearing before the AMCC.