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Alabama medical cannabis license process under legal scrutiny: Judge denies TRO

The ruling allows the commission to proceed with its planned meeting and licensing process.

Wooden gavel of judge and sound block surrounded by marijuana leaves on table. Illegal growth of psychoactive cannabis plant and drugs spreading
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In the latest legal challenge, Alabama Always, LLC sued the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission last week, claiming the Commission’s method of selecting medical cannabis licensees was unlawful. The suit, filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court, questioned the fairness and legality of the Commission’s licensing process under Alabama law.

Alabama Always, an applicant for an integrated medical cannabis license, contested specific sections of the Alabama Administrative Code. The plaintiff argued that these rules allow a minority of Commission members to exercise veto power over the majority in licensee selection, contradicting the principle of majority vote decision-making.

The lawsuit detailed the Commission’s voting procedure, which requires Commissioners to rank all applicants for integrated licenses. According to the plaintiff, this system enables a few Commissioners to exert disproportionate influence, effectively excluding applicants and allowing even a single commissioner to “blackball” an applicant.

Alabama Always argued that this approach violated the principle of majority rule and open discussion as mandated by the Alabama Administrative Procedure Act (AAPA). The company also asserted it was likely the sole applicant fulfilling all integrated license criteria and accused some Commissioners of attempting to block their licensure.

The lawsuit asked for a court declaration that the Commission’s rule is invalid under the AAPA and an injunction against its implementation. Alabama Always maintained that the rule exceeded the Commission’s legal authority and was enacted without proper rulemaking procedures.

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Anderson denied the TRO and raised eyebrows with a somewhat humorous critique of the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) application. Judge Anderson quipped, “This TRO sounds familiar, like, ‘Judge, tell them not to violate the law.’ Is that kind of what this is?”

Delving deeper, Judge Anderson shared his initial thoughts on the matter: “I read your pleadings. I read the amended pleading. My initial thought is I think the commission, as long as they don’t violate a law, can do what they want about coming up with stuff.” His commentary reflects a pragmatic approach to the legal challenges facing Alabama’s nascent medical cannabis sector.

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The crux of the pleadings revolved around the transparency of the state commission’s decision-making process, particularly concerning what some see as secret ballots. Judge Anderson opined, “I would think that the public is entitled to know how each commissioner voted and what score was assigned.” He underscored the importance of public accountability, especially in a sector as scrutinized and regulated as medical cannabis.

The judge also suggested that it might be advantageous for the commission to keep notes and document their rankings. However, he emphasized that the public has the right to be informed about these decisions. “If Commissioner Jones votes this person number one and this person thirty-six, the public has the right to know that,” Anderson remarked, highlighting the need for transparency in the commission’s operations. The commission has been publishing summaries of notes and rankings post-decision, but this case brings to light the necessity of such practices.

This legal tussle in Montgomery County is a microcosm of the broader challenges facing Alabama’s medical cannabis industry. It also raises important questions about the balance of power within state commissions and the critical importance of procedural integrity in government decision-making. As Alabama’s medical cannabis industry continues to take shape, this case will likely be a key reference point in the ongoing dialogue about regulation and transparency in this evolving sector.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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