Alabama Always, one of the medical cannabis companies currently suing the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC), asked a Montgomery Circuit Court Judge on Monday for permission to discuss its lawsuit and "potential ways to resolve it" with commissioners and AMCC staff.
Licenses were previously awarded by the commission last month. Shortly after the licenses were announced, the commission put a stay on proceedings due to discoveries by commission staff of "potential inconsistencies in the tabulation of scoring data." The commission also suspended the issuance of previously awarded licenses. Multiple cannabis companies that didn't receive licenses from the commission in June are currently suing AMCC.
AMCC rules state: "The integrity of the application and licensing process is of paramount importance to the Commission and will not be compromised. Throughout the application process, applicants (including all employees, agents and representatives of applicants and any other individual acting on an applicant's behalf) must not initiate communication with any member of the Commission or any AMCC staff, officials, or representatives regarding the application, except through the email listed in the contact information provided below."
William Somerville, an attorney for Alabama Always, asked the court on Monday for an order "holding that it (and other applicants and the public) may communicate directly with members of the Commission and Commission staff regarding this lawsuit without the permission or participation of Commission counsel."
"Since it appears that the Commission is determined to control Commission members' access to information, and since the public and applicants before the Commission have a right to express their opinions about this lawsuit to the members of the Commission, this Court should enter an order clarifying that members of the Commission who would like to speak with litigants and their lawyers about this matter are free to do so," Somerville said in the filing on Monday. "While it is true that the Commission's rules contain a "gag" rule that limits communications between applicants and Commission members, that rule only prevents communications "regarding the application." Alabama Always does not wish to speak with Commissioners or staff members about its application but rather about the lawsuit and potential ways to resolve it. Finally, since the application process has been stayed, the Commission's gag rule applies only during the application process. For these reasons, Alabama Always asks the Court to enter an order holding that it (and other applicants and the public) may communicate directly with members of the Commission and Commission staff regarding this lawsuit without the permission or participation of Commission counsel."
AMCC officials said at their most recent commission meeting on July 10 they'd contracted with Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler (KPMG), an auditing firm, to review the numbers the commission used to rank businesses for licensing awards. They also said they hoped to re-award licenses at their next meeting on August 10 after correcting scoring errors made previously. The lawsuit, including Alabama Always, is currently under a stay.
William Webster, an attorney for the AMCC, said in a recent filing that Alabama Always "improperly requested the opportunity to circumvent the Stay ordered by this Court to demand discovery that it knows it is not entitled to at this time."
"(Alabama Alway's) Counsel touts an "admission" it improperly obtained when it approached Commission staff outside the presence of counsel to ask about information sought in discovery that this Court had deemed premature and while the proceedings were specifically stayed," Webster said. "Specifically, AA states that its counsel approached AMCC Staff Member Brittany Peters at a July 10 meeting of the Commission, that he inquired about the existence and availability of recordings of AMCC's public meetings, and he was told by Ms. Peters that the recordings are made to assist in creating the minutes of the meetings and that the recordings are routinely erased "after the minutes are created." This is an amazing admission, not by Ms. Peters, but by AA itself. By the very Motion now before the Court, AA has acknowledged that its counsel approached a known employee of AMCC, while in the midst of litigation against AMCC, knowing that AMCC was represented by counsel; outside the presence of that counsel, AA's counsel interviewed her about matters which it sought to discover – including AMCC's recordings of its public meetings. Tellingly, Ms. Peters is a would-be deponent in the discovery sought by AA, which this Court has thus far barred it from obtaining as premature under the circumstances, and as to which a stay was currently in place."
The annual license fees offered through AMCC range from $30,000 to $50,000, depending on the type.
To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email caleb.taylor@1819News.com.
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