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Opinion | In medical cannabis licensing mess, depositions are the only way to the truth

In a process that has been weirdly secretive from the start, depositions are the sunlight this licensing process needs.

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The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission filed a motion on Friday asking a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge to reconsider an order allowing for depositions and other discovery in a long-running lawsuit over the Commission’s handling of the medical cannabis licensing process. 

Judge James Anderson granted the plaintiffs – a group of cannabis companies denied licenses – the right to depose up to six people and obtain numerous documents in an effort to ascertain just what has gone on in this process. However, in its filing, the AMCC claims the plaintiffs didn’t meet certain requirements under the law and want Anderson to reconsider. 

Consider this my court filing: Don’t you do it, Judge. 

On behalf of all the citizens of this state, the media and everyone who cares about good government, don’t reconsider a thing. Because the only thing you granted is what should have happened in the first place. 

An open process. 

There’s absolutely no acceptable reason that an employee of the state – a person being paid by all of us taxpayers – should have a problem sitting before any attorney and answering questions about the manner in which a public process governed by the laws of this state was conducted. And that’s all your order is granting. 

Let’s also not forget that the only reason there are questions about this process is because the AMCC – its commissioners and its staff – have flatly refused to follow state laws and conduct this process in an open and transparent manner. 

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I mean, an actual judge sits on this commission and somehow it still decided it was OK to hold a full deliberation in executive session (out of public view) and vote by secret ballot. And then acted as if everyone else was crazy for raising hell about those obvious violations of the Alabama Open Meetings Act. 

But even before that, there were issues. From a weird workaround of some requirements handed out to certain companies to allowing almost entire applications – including the locations of facilities – to be redacted, it was apparent from the start that something … hinky was happening. For goodness sakes, whoever heard of being allowed to hide where your business will be located on a state bid? 

This has been insanity. 

And we haven’t yet touched on the numerous – and I do mean numerous – odd connections between certain staff/commissioners and people tied to some applicant companies. Just start with the guy tied to an applicant company who quite literally helped write Alabama’s application process. 

You see what I’m saying? It has been insanity from the start.  

And now, these companies are simply asking that the court force the AMCC to do what it should have done anyway – explain itself. 

Explain the mistakes and coincidences. Explain the odd connections. Explain why they violated the Open Meetings Act. Explain if they’ve violated it repeatedly. Explain why this is all so damned secretive and mysterious, instead of just a simple and open public process for awarding a state license. 

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Honestly, that doesn’t seem like too much to ask. And it would seem as if the AMCC would want to answer the allegations contained in the court filings. 

In one of those filings, two plaintiff companies allege that the AMCC commissioners have again violated the Open Meetings Act by meeting secretly to decide which companies to select and how to vote. The AMCC, in its response, pushes back on that by saying there’s no evidence and that there are procedural insufficiencies in the filing. 

But there is evidence. 

First, there’s the couple of blatant violations of the OMA from earlier in this process, which more than proves the Commission’s willingness to disregard that law. And second, there’s the fact that despite clear directives from the court to be more open, the AMCC refused at every turn to hold public deliberations. To date, not a single commissioner has explained – or even discussed – publicly his or her vote or company preference or most important factors or what they believe is a deficiency or pass/fail item. 

Those discussions are why we have public meetings. Those discussions assure the public that the public employees/board members/commissioners have put in a good faith effort to follow laws, guidelines and regulations, and that they are making decisions based on those guidelines and selecting companies for contracts that best meet the qualifications. 

We’ve never had that in this process. 

The depositions might very well be the public’s only chance at learning why that is.

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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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