Alabama Marijuana Regulators To Begin Negotiations With Legal Challengers Over State’s Licensing Process

“We’re very hopeful that we can arrive at a process that will be best for everybody involved, including the patients who need medical cannabis.”

By Alander Rocha, Alabama Reflector

The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC) will meet with prospective producers and distributors next week to attempt to resolve litigation over the state’s licensing process.

A Montgomery County Circuit Judge Wednesday extended a temporary restraining order to allow the negotiations to go forward.

The AMCC faces several lawsuits over the licensing process. The lawsuits allege that the commission violated the state Open Meetings Act while issuing licenses on August 10, or improperly voided licenses granted in an earlier round. Both the court and the AMCC have suspended the licensing process.

Will Somerville, an attorney for Alabama Always, one of the companies suing the AMCC, said after the hearing that it’s unclear what might come out of the negotiations. Somerville said he hopes that it will streamline the process to allow the best applicants to receive a license “without being stuck in court for years to come.”

“I felt very encouraged that everybody seems to have that as their objective,” Somerville said.

Will Webster, an attorney for the AMCC, said after the hearing the attorneys involved—for AMCC, Alabama Always, and all intervening parties—will privately meet on September 11 to discuss how the process moves forward. Webster said they will “hash more of these things out” at the private meeting.

“We did talk some procedural things today about how this is going to work, how it might work, some ideas that people have for the Commission’s consideration,” Webster said.

Webster said the parties still needed to work out the process of getting to a third round of licensing, though he declined to discuss specifics.

“It was a positive day, because right now, there’s not been a decision made about exactly the things that are going to need to happen. But we’re in conversation about that,” Webster said.

Somerville also expressed optimism following the hearing.

Alabama Always, which did not get a license in the earlier rounds of awards, wants a third round of licensing to include site visits, or at minimum a requirement that applicants provide videos of their facilities, Somerville said. The company also wants the commission to reconsider previous scores.

He said what might come out of the negotiations will “be the process of how applicants present their cases to the commission.”

“We’re very hopeful that we can arrive at a process that will be best for everybody involved, including the patients who need medical cannabis,” Somerville said.

Alabama Always ranked 26 among 38 applicants for an integrated facility license in the scores used for the second round of awards.

“I personally don’t see [a way to use previous scores],” Somerville said. “But I’m certainly willing to consider what anybody has to say about it. But I don’t think so.”

Webster said that the use of scores will be a point of discussion.

The commission issued an administrative stay last week on the licensing process at its meeting in Montgomery to allow parties an attempt to resolve issues before resuming the licensing process.

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.

Alabama Always, which sued the commission in July over the appointment of former chair Steven Stokes, filed a lawsuit against the AMCC after the August 10 meeting, alleging that commission members privately nominated companies for public votes on license awards during an executive session, in violation of the Open Meetings Act.

The lawsuit also 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.

Montgomery Circuit Court Judge James Anderson extended the restraining order “at least” until September 19, when AMCC is expected to meet again in Montgomery.

This story was first published by Alabama Reflector.

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