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Court of Civil Appeals rules against AMCC allows Alabama Always to pursue judicial review

The court’s ruling further expedites the quest to compel the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to follow the law set forth by the Legislature.

Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission
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In what is a double blow to the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals on Friday issued two rulings in favor of a medical cannabis applicant, Alabama Always, clearing the way for the next steps in the company’s quest to compel the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to follow the law set forth by the Legislature.

The court denied the commission’s petition for a writ of mandamus, stating the AMCC “has not met its burden of proving that it lacks an adequate remedy by way of a post-judgment appeal, and because the AMCC has raised issues not yet adjudicated by the circuit court.”

Will Somerville, attorney for Alabama Always, said the latest ruling is a positive step forward in the process.

“We will be able to now ask for discovery – where we can determine exactly how this commission has operated – and bring everything out in the open,” Somerville said.

For over a year, Alabama Always and other medical cannabis applicants have been tied up in court, appealing to the judiciary to do whatever is needed to force the AMCC to follow the statute approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey. In the commission’s selection of applicants, it used a somewhat secretive scoring system and did not adhere to specifics in the law, such as requiring applicants to secure a $2 million bond or have a facility ready to cultivate within 60 days of receiving a license, among others.

“All we have tried to do over the past year or so is to hold the AMCC practices and processes accountable,” Somerville said. “It’s a simple thing – do what the law passed by the Legislature says for you to do. It’s step by step; not a complicated process. Why the AMCC has made this so complicated is absolutely mind-boggling.”

Medical cannabis, made legal in Alabama in 2021, is still not available to patients.

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“The commission has had multiple opportunities to do this the right way – just follow the statute, implement the guidelines, and award the licenses to the companies who meet the requirements,” Somerville said. “Yet, they continue to turn a blind eye to the law, which is just absolutely unnecessary and continues to hurt patients who need medical cannabis.”

The saga began in 2022 when Alabama Always, along with 37 other entities, applied to the AMCC for one of the five available integrated-facility licenses authorized under Ala. Code 1975, § 20-2A-67. These licenses encompass cultivation, processing, dispensing, transporting, and selling medical cannabis. Despite multiple rounds of awards and subsequent rescindments due to procedural errors, Alabama Always never secured a license.

Alabama Always filed a notice of appeal on January 3, challenging the AMCC’s December 12, 2023 decision. The company had previously initiated legal action against the AMCC but dismissed those cases to refile a consolidated petition for judicial review and an amended complaint. On March 28, 2024, Alabama Always moved to dismiss its pending actions against the AMCC, citing the agency’s sovereign immunity, and filed a new action on April 3, 2024.

The Montgomery Circuit Court granted Alabama Always’s motion for an order permitting judicial review on April 10, 2024, which the AMCC challenged. The AMCC argued that Alabama Always’s filing was untimely and procedurally deficient.

The Court of Civil Appeals noted that Ala. Code 1975, § 41-22-20(d) allows an extension of time for filing a petition for judicial review if “good cause” is shown. The Circuit Court’s April 10 order determined that Alabama Always demonstrated good cause for its delayed filing. The Appeals Court found no grounds to overturn this decision, highlighting that mandamus is an extraordinary remedy, typically unavailable for such procedural disputes unless an appeal is inadequate.

The AMCC’s petition also raised issues of sovereign immunity and administrative remedy exhaustion. However, these arguments were deemed premature as the Circuit Court had yet to rule on a pending motion to dismiss based on these grounds.

The Court of Civil Appeals denied the AMCC’s petition for a writ of mandamus. This decision allows Alabama Always to proceed with its judicial review of the AMCC’s license denial, keeping the legal battle over Alabama’s medical cannabis licensing very much alive.

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This ruling adds another layer to the ongoing legal and regulatory challenges faced by entities vying for a foothold in Alabama’s burgeoning medical cannabis industry.

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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