Alabama Judge Extends Pause On Medical Marijuana Business Licensing Over Alleged Open Meetings Violations

“We’ve gotten everybody fired up in the state about medical cannabis, and everybody’s been wondering ‘when am I going to get my card,’ and now we can’t even answer that question.”

By Alander Rocha, Alabama Reflector

A Montgomery County circuit judge Monday extended a temporary restraining order preventing the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC) from starting the cannabis licensing process.

The temporary restraining order will still allow the commission to meet on Thursday as previously scheduled, at which time the AMCC is expected to issue their own administrative stay on the licensing process.

“And basically, go back to square one. Have another meeting—an open meeting,” said Michael Jackson, an attorney on AMCC’s legal team.

The stay, issued by Montgomery County Circuit Judge James Anderson, came amid a lawsuit alleging AMCC violated the state’s Open Meetings Act at its most recent 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.

Alabama Always alleged that the commission violated the state’s Open Meetings Law at the August 10 meeting by privately nominating companies for public votes on license awards during an executive session.

Anderson in mid-August imposed a temporary restraining order on the licensing process, writing that Alabama Always had “demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, imminent likelihood of irreparable harm, the absence of an adequate remedy at law and the balance of equities.”

Monday’s hearing did not resolve the lawsuit, but Jackson said that the AMCC could grant the licenses a third time at a future meeting. Jackson said it would not be “a re-award for the same people.”

This meeting could happen as early as September, according to Jackson.

“We’re not talking about pushing it way down the road,” he said.

Anderson set a second preliminary hearing on the commission’s alleged Open Meetings Act violations for September 6.

Will Somerville, attorney for Alabama Always, said after the hearing he looks forward to working with the commission to resolve the issues.

“I was pleased to hear the commission say that it wants to look at the larger issues of what’s going on and talk about the process and see if something can be worked out—to have meetings in the open going forward,” Somerville said.

Chey Garrigan, president of the Alabama Cannabis Industry Association, said after the hearing that the litigation has only held the process up, with patients anxiously waiting to have access to the medical product.

“Now we’ve gotten everybody fired up in the state about medical cannabis, and everybody’s been wondering ‘when am I going to get my card,’ and now we can’t even answer that question,” Garrigan said.

Somerville said that while the lawsuit is centered around alleged Open Meetings Act violations, the goal is to win a license.

“They want a license. And they continue to think that with a fair process, they’ve got a really good chance of getting a license,” Somerville said. “Because they think they’re really one of the five best applicants.”

Alabama Always ranked 26 among 38 applicants for an integrated facility license.

If Alabama Always doesn’t win a license in the third round of re-awards, it’s unclear if there would be more litigation because he does not know what that re-award will look like yet.

“I think if they think that they’ve lost fair and square in a fair process, then they’ll walk away, sure,” Somerville said.

This story was first published by the Alabama Reflector.

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