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“Cloaked in secrecy” applicant bemoans Cannabis Commission licensing process

The company is hoping the commission brings the process out into the open so it and the public can better understand the licensing decisions made by the commission.

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Alabama Always has spent millions of dollars preparing a facility over the last four years in hopes of being on of the five grantees of an integrated facility license by the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission.

On June 12, the commission entered in an executive session and emerged with the businesses they expected to award the licenses; Alabama Always wasn’t one of them.

That process has now been put on hold by the Commission itself, as they noted “inconsistencies” in the scoring metrics provided third-party evaluators recruited by the University of South Alabama.

But Alabama Always argued in court Friday that the stay imposed by the commission may not hold water, and asked Montgomery Circuit Judge John Anderson to impose a temporary restraining order to ensure that the delay in awarding licenses doesn’t take away the right of the company, or any other denied company, the right to appeal the commission’s decision.

Both sides were amenable to the restraining order, which Anderson signed Friday to ensure the process could continue.

However, Anderson said he would not be addressing Alabama Always’ complaints about the process itself at this point, as no company has yet been “injured” since the commission has not yet awarded the licenses.

Alabama Always attempted to begin limited discovery into the process, as in its complaint it notes that the licensure process has been primarily handled behind closed doors.

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“We think that from day one, this process has been cloaked in secrecy,” said Will Somerville, an attorney representing Alabama Always. “We think that there’s circumstantial evidence that the Open Meetings Act has been violated and we think that the commissioners have not been able to exercise their discretion.”

Alabama Always charges in its complaint that the commission violated the Open Meetings Act by calling an emergency meeting without a 24-hour notice. At that June 16 meeting, the commission announced the inconsistencies in the scoring and issued its own stay on the licensing process. 

Anderson tended to agree with the state that the commission could hold an emergency meeting without a 24-hour notice because due to potential property damage. Somerville argued that because the inconsistencies wouldn’t lead to “physical property damage,” the commission should have still been required to give 24-hour notice. However, he said the state’s agreement to the TRO makes that issue “a moot point.”

Somerville also charged that there was no real vote on the applicants during the June 12 meeting; he said his clients believe they simply announced the selected companies coming out of executive session without taking a vote. Even if the commission did vote after executive session, Somerville argued it was nothing more than a “rubberstamp” of a decision that had already been made improperly behind closed doors.

“We haven’t seen them debate,” Somerville said. “We haven’t seen them discuss which applicants are better and why; we think that needs to be for the public to hear … My client feels they’ve done as good a job or a better job as anybody’s s any other applicant. They’re not going to ask the judge to award them. License, they just want the process to work along the way it’s supposed to and they feel confident in their chances if that’s allowed to happen.”

Somerville also reinforced an argument in the complaint that the commission has abdicated its duties by contracting with an anonymous third party to weigh the applicants, instead of the commission itself deciding amongst its members chosen in part for their diverse backgrounds relating to the industry.

The only court action taken though was the signing of the TRO, which means applicants will have a 14-day window to appeal once licenses are actually awarded, irrespective to the prior timeline. 

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Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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