Alabama Judge Halts Medical Marijuana Licensing Again, This Time Over Alleged Open Meetings Violations

“The delay has been caused by their refusal to follow the law every time. They keep on doing things they shouldn’t do. And they keep on being stuck.”

By Alander Rocha, Alabama Reflector

A Montgomery County Circuit Judge Thursday put a hold on Alabama’s medical cannabis program amid a lawsuit alleging the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC) violated the state’s Open Meetings Act at its most recent meeting.

The stay, issued by Judge James Anderson, followed a heated hearing where an attorney for the AMCC suggested the commission would air applicants’ “dirty laundry.”

Applicants denied a license won’t be able to request an investigative hearing until after the stay is lifted, and the commission will have to put site visits and evaluations on hold. AMCC Director John McMillan said that it will be “impossible” to issue licenses at an August 31 meeting.

“We’ll most likely have to schedule another meeting,” McMillan said after the hearing, and added that they would have to complete site visits.

Alabama Always, which sued the commission last month over the appointment of former chair Steven Stokes, filed a lawsuit against the AMCC, alleging the commission violated the state’s open meetings law at its August 10 meeting. The company, which applied for but did not receive a license, alleged that commission members privately nominated companies for public votes on license awards during an executive session.

The lawsuit alleges that commission members were instructed to seal their nominations in an envelope during the executive session, and the companies with the most nominations received a public vote in the August 10 meeting.

The AMCC re-awarded licenses for the production and distribution of medical cannabis at the August 10 meeting, two months after stopping earlier awards amid questions about the evaluation of applications.

The judge allowed other parties to join the suit by the end of the week. Alabama Always and other companies suing AMCC will have to prove that the commission violated state law.

Will Somerville, attorney for Alabama Always, said after the hearing that the process wouldn’t have been delayed if the commission “were doing things the right way.”

“The delay has been caused by their refusal to follow the law every time. They keep on doing things they shouldn’t do. And they keep on being stuck,” Somerville said.

During the hearing, Will Webster, an attorney for the AMCC, seemingly frustrated by the process, asked the judge how the commission should move forward with business.

“Because every time we go out and come back, somebody else has something else to say about what we’ve done, and I want to know what it is that we can do,” he said to the judge.

Anderson said that he can’t tell the commission how to conduct business. He said that he just gets “stuck with what the allegations are.”

“I’ll tell you what we plan to do, judge,” Webster said in response. “If this has to go back one more time. We are done protecting anyone’s reputation or character. We don’t have to go in executive session, and we won’t. We will put forth everyone’s dirty laundry, and everyone will hear about it.”

Anderson said they don’t have to go into executive session.

“That’s something y’all choose to do, or not to do,” Anderson said.

“It’s just what’s going to happen,” Webster said.

McMillan after the hearing said that “dirty laundry” meant issues that came up in background checks that “are part of this decision.”

Anderson set a hearing on the commission’s alleged Open Meetings Act violations for August 28, 2023 at 1:30 p.m.

This story was first published by Alabama Reflector.

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