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Alabama Cannabis Commission chair resigns after legal challenge

The complaint alleged Steven Stokes is ineligible lead the commission while serving on the University of South Alabama Board of Trustees.

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Dr. Steven Stokes announced Thursday that he will be resigning from the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission after a legal complaint filed last week arguing he is ineligible to serve.

Stokes has not only been a commissioner since its inception, he has also served as chairman. 

But a legal complaint filed by Alabama resident Kimberly Holcomb challenged his eligibility, noting that the act precludes public officials and employees from serving on the commission.

Stokes initially said he would fight the complaint, but explained to multiple outlets including APR that he is stepping aside to forego litigation “that would stop the whole process.”

“Next Thursday, the Commission will be prepared to award five integrator licenses, as well as the other licenses,” Stokes said. “Attorneys for commission, my personal attorneys and the court stated (that the litigation) could drag on for several months, and that while going through that litigation process, the commission would be hamstrung. I think the people have waited long enough, so I chose to step aside so next Thursday (the commission) can award licenses.”

Although Stokes’ resignation effectively resolves the complaint, he said he still does not agree with the notion that he was ineligible to serve in the role.

“I went through the entire confirmation process,” Stokes said. “Everybody knows I’ve been a trustee at USA for many years and this issue has never been raised.”

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In addition to claiming Stokes is ineligible to serve on the commission, the complaint also raises questions about his connection to USA and the commission’s contract with the university to recruit independent evaluators to review applicants.

But Stokes said that the opportunity was also offered to the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Auburn University School of Pharmacy, but they turned the offer down.

“If you look at the CVs and resumes of those evaluators, they’re college professors, they have PhDs in biochemistry, in engineering, they’re retired retired business leaders of Mobile,” Stokes said. “And none of the evaluators knew who the applicants were. They were all blindly coded (The evaluators) gave their objective evaluation.”

This is the latest legal drama in the cannabis commission’s troubled licensure process, with the first sign of trouble coming when the commission itself halted its procedure after noticing “potential inconsistencies” in the tabulation or collation of applicants’ scores. 

One applicant, Alabama Always, that was not awarded an integrated facility license in the initial round of awards quickly sued the commission, and other parties have now also attached themselves to that lawsuit. There are a broad range of accusations of mishandling the application process, but Montgomery Circuit Judge John Anderson has said those complaints are premature until the commission actually issues licenses.

The attorneys representing Alabama Always also represented Kimberly Holcomb in her complaint against Stokes.

Stokes said the complaint goes beyond his eligibility to serve on the commission.

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“I think the people who have filed the complaints have gotten the idea they’re not going to be competitive on merits, and since they’re not going to be competitive on the merits, they’re going to try to stop the process or litigate the process,” Stokes said. “I guess that’s where they’re headed with all this.”

Beyond serving as chair of the commission, Stokes has been involved with the process for three years as part of the advisory committee, but today steps away from the process altogether.

“It’s very painful,” Stokes said.

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

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