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Judge halts Alabama medical cannabis licenses for a third time

The flawed and beleagured medical cannabis licensure process has hit yet another legal snag.

Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission

The third time was not, in fact, the charm for the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission’s licensure process. 

For the third time in as many attempts, a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge on Wednesday issued a restraining order preventing the AMCC from awarding integrated facility licenses, stating that the plaintiff companies who filed suit against the Commission are likely to prove that the AMCC violated Alabama law by using a flawed voting process. 

Judge James Anderson also issued an order allowing the plaintiffs to depose up to six individuals in an effort to shed light on the AMCC’s licensure process and the motivations behind certain actions, and he allowed the plaintiffs to subpoena a trove of documents. 

Anderson gave the AMCC until Jan. 19 to produce the documents and sit for depositions. He set a hearing on the matter for Jan. 24. 

The plaintiffs in the case – a collection of several medical marijuana companies that were denied licenses by the AMCC – have contended for months that something nefarious was at play with the AMCC and its odd licensure process, which they said seemed to favor certain companies. During one court hearing, an attorney for the plaintiff companies told Anderson that allowing depositions would “blow up” the entire “scheme.” 

Whether there is a “scheme” or not, there certainly have been enough mistakes, miscues, odd occurrences and violations of law and procedure to cause Anderson to stall the AMCC’s process on three different occasions now. Following each of the previous two restraining orders issued by the court, the AMCC has admitted to problems with its process and agreed to a list of corrective actions.  

At issue this time is the means by which the AMCC conducted its vote on the 33 companies vying for licenses. Instead of holding a public debate and narrowing the choice down to the final five, the Commission chose to use a ranking system conducted by secret ballots (that were later publicly disclosed). Under that system, each commissioner ranked the companies from 1 to 33 and then the average was used to select the top five. 

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The plaintiffs argued, however, that such a system violates the Alabama Administrative Procedures Act, which requires the Commission to hold votes in which the majority of the commissioners approve a list of winners. Under the AMCC’s system, four commissioners could rank a company highly, but a fifth could score the company near the bottom of the list, effectively moving it outside of the top five. That would give a minority of the Commission more power than the majority, and would violate the AAPA. 

Additionally, the Commission held no real public debate on the companies, leaving speculation that decisions were being made outside of the public meeting. For example, when selecting a minority-owned company – a requirement under the law – the commissioners voted against approving the top ranked minority-owned company and took a company ranked two spots lower. There was no discussion on this move, and it was the only vote in which the commissioners went against their ranking system. 

In his order that will again stall the medical cannabis process in Alabama, Anderson acknowledged the fact that the continued legal disruptions are likely to have an effect on the timeliness with which cannabis products are available to patients. However, he said the public interest is greater in ensuring that laws and proper procedures are followed.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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