MONTGOMERY — On Monday, Montgomery County Circuit Judge James Anderson extended a temporary restraining order on most proceedings of the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC) until September 6.
Anderson originally placed a temporary restraining order on any new AMCC proceedings over concerns the commission might have violated the state's Open Meetings Act during its meeting on August 10.
The AMCC awarded 24 licenses at the meeting. Attorneys for companies that didn't receive a license argued in court recently that the commission's use of an executive session to nominate some companies in private violates the Open Meetings Act. AMCC officials have said they complied with the Open Meetings Act.
The temporary restraining order extension on Monday likely means the earliest AMCC officials could re-award licenses for a third time would be sometime in September. The next two scheduled AMCC meetings are August 31 and September 19.
"This is just a commentary," Anderson said at a hearing Monday. "I don't know if it's true or not, but I heard Mississippi passed this same act six months after Alabama, and I heard that they were issuing prescriptions this January so we can't say, 'Thank God for Mississippi now.'"
Jim Barton, a spokesman for the Alabama Medical Cannabis Consortium, said, "Our group is disappointed in the continuance without a doubt."
The Consortium is made up of businesses that were recently awarded licenses in August by the commission but are now in limbo due to the stay on the commission's proceedings. Businesses awarded licenses also have to pay a hefty annual fee of $30,000 to $50,000 to the state and go through commission inspections and site visits before they can begin operations. Those won't happen until the restraining order is lifted.
"They went into executive session and came out. I don't have any reason to believe anything was hidden from the public, but they'll have a meeting again," Barton told 1819 News on Monday. "It's clear that the guys that are suing didn't score well for whatever reason. I don't pretend to know the answer or the means by which they were all scored, but it's evident that the folks who were viewed in the best light based on the scores were the ones who were awarded a license. The others just weren't. I don't know if anything changes if we go through the steps one more time. Clearly, that's what we're going to have to do."
The AMCC's next meeting is scheduled for Thursday.
"I would think maybe we'd have a better understanding on Thursday of when they're going to do this and just follow the directions of Anderson. If I'm in that position, I'm just going to follow the directions of the Judge that we do it a third time and we've done everything that the Judge requires and there's just no room for interpretation," Barton said.
William Somerville, an attorney for one of the companies suing the commission that didn't receive an AMCC license called Alabama Always, said after the court hearing on Monday, "The best way to move the process along quickly is to choose the applicants that are most qualified to deliver a quality product at the earliest possible time."
"Their objective at the end of the day is to get a license. They spent a lot of money," Somerville said. "They were told at the very beginning if you're in a position to begin cultivation within 60 days, if you're in a position to get production ramped up quickly so you can provide medicine to people's bodies as quickly as possible then you will be in the best position to get a license. Well, they did that. They spent a lot of money to do that and then this irrational scoring process saw them ranked number 25. They want a license, and they continue to think with a fair process they've got a really good chance of getting a license because they're really one of the five best applicants."
Verano Alabama, LLC, the only company initially awarded an integrated facility license in June that didn't get a license the second time around in August, filed a separate lawsuit against AMCC in Montgomery County Circuit Court recently and asked the court to reverse the commission's decision in August to void Verano's awarded license. Verano Alabama is a venture of the multi-state cannabis company Verano Holdings. Verano Alabama received the highest applicant scores on evaluations for integrated facilities in June and August.
To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email caleb.taylor@1819News.com.
Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.