The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission officially filed an appeal on Wednesday with the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, asking the court to overturn an order issued by a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge that allowed several plaintiff companies to depose AMCC commissioners and obtain numerous documents.
The appeal by the AMCC claims that Judge James Anderson erred in issuing the order because the plaintiffs had not yet exhausted all administrative remedies and because it offered insufficient evidence that violations of the Alabama Open Meetings occurred.
“The trial court exceeded its discretion by issuing [the discovery order] because the Challengers have not satisfied the prerequisites for obtaining discovery on either (Alabama Administrative Procedures Act) or (Alabama Open Meetings Act) claims,” the petition for writ of mandamus states.
Anderson issued the order in early January, after the AMCC awarded medical cannabis licenses for the third time. It was also the third time that the court had stopped the issuing of those licenses after determining that the AMCC had, in various ways, failed to follow state laws or other requirements during the process.
The AMCC publicly acknowledged that its scoring process – the primary target of the first round of lawsuits by plaintiff companies – was “flawed,” and it voluntarily rescinded the awarded licenses after the filing of the lawsuits.
After the second round of licenses were awarded and more lawsuits filed – or ongoing ones amended – the two sides entered into mediation, mostly centered around the AMCC’s lack of compliance with the Open Meetings Act and its failure to follow the Alabama Administrative Procedures Act, which governs all state bodies. Coming out of mediation, the AMCC once again essentially acknowledged mistakes and agreed to make certain changes. It also agreed to again restart the licensing process.
Following the third attempt, which occurred in December, more lawsuits were filed/amended, taking issue with the AMCC’s continued lack of transparency – particularly in relation to AOMA requirements – and a scoring process that allowed a minority of commissioners to essentially deny a company a license – seemingly in violation of the AAPA. The plaintiff companies asked the court to again issue a temporary restraining order that would prevent the licenses from being issued and to allow for discovery, including depositions, to help answer questions about the AMCC’s troubled licensing process.
In its appeal, the AMCC claims that Anderson should have denied the requests, because the plaintiffs, as part of the administrative procedures governing the AMCC, have an option to appeal the decisions of the AMCC and could be granted a hearing. But in his order, Anderson addresses that issue by noting that the appeals process would be essentially useless, since the AMCC would have already issued its limited number of licenses.
In fact, Anderson granted the AMCC additional time to consider issuing its own stay of the licensing process until the already-filed appeals from several companies could be heard and dealt with. The AMCC, at its Dec. 28 meeting, passed a motion declining to issue such a stay and stated it would move forward with issuing the licenses.
In addition, Anderson held hearings on these matters, during which the parties presented evidence and argued their cases before him. After that hearing, Anderson determined that the allegations of improper conduct, specifically related to violations of the AOMA and AAPA, were enough to warrant moving forward with discovery. Appeals courts typically stick to matters of procedure and don’t often intervene in matters related to a judge’s opinion.
During a status hearing last week, Anderson told the parties involved that it was his opinion that “limited discovery” would assist the court in making rulings on various matters as the case progresses.
The AMCC, however, argues in its appeal that allowing the depositions of commissioners would be akin to harassment.
As it stands, nearly three years after the law allowing for medical cannabis was passed, the AMCC has still not been able to issue a single cannabis license.