“We just want to reverse course, put things on a better track so that it avoids the problems.”
By Alander Rocha, Alabama Reflector
A Montgomery County Circuit Judge Thursday dismissed a motion from the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC) to lift a temporary restraining order and postpone next week’s preliminary hearing on AMCC’s alleged Open Meetings Act violations.
Judge James Anderson did not provide reasons for dismissing the motion but said to the defendant and plaintiffs that if there is “anything y’all can agree on,” to let him know before the next hearing. Anderson then ended the hearing and walked away.
William Webster, legal counsel for the AMCC, claimed in a motion to postpone the hearing that they could potentially address criticism the commission has faced at the next commission meeting, by voiding and re-awarding licenses a third time without going into an executive session.
“We’re not admitting any wrongdoing,” said Webster, but that “in an effort to try to calm the waters,” and potentially avoid more litigation, the commission could reconvene next week and rework the process without going into executive session.
But William Somerville, attorney for plaintiff Alabama Always, which is suing the AMCC over allegations that it violated the state’s Open Meetings Act at its August 10 meeting, said after the hearing allowing the commission a third chance could still lead to issues.
Based on the commission’s previous meetings, he believed AMCC members could simply vote on the licenses awarded at the last meeting with minimal effort and discussion.
“Because we know they had an executive session for four hours, and nobody knows exactly what was discussed then,” Somerville said. “So we think that the debate needs to be in public, so that everybody can know what’s going on.”
Alabama Always, which applied for but did not receive a license in the first two rounds of awards, alleged that commission members privately nominated companies for public votes on license awards during an executive session on August 10. Under state law, public bodies in executive session generally cannot take votes on business.
The AMCC re-awarded licenses for the production and distribution of medical cannabis at the August 10 meeting, two months after stopping earlier awards amid questions about the evaluation of applications. Anderson last week imposed a temporary restraining order on the licensing process, writing that Alabama Always had “demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, imminent likelihood of irreparable harm, the absence of an adequate remedy at law and the balance of equities.”
“We just want to reverse course, put things on a better track so that it avoids the problems that we now, or proceed hopefully, and give us the opportunity to do this in open session,” said Webster.
On Monday, Verano Holdings, a Chicago-based company with an Alabama chapter, sued the AMCC, alleging the commission cannot revoke licenses and that its exercise of power “both exceeds and conflicts with the authority provided to it by the Alabama Legislature.” Verano received an integrated facility license in the first round of awards in June but did not get a license in the second round earlier this month.
Although it was not Verano’s hearing on Thursday, the company frequently came up in the discussions. Lawyers involved in the Alabama Always case were careful to not take Verano’s position, and Anderson indicated that the commission might have the power to void licenses.
Anderson said that, while he needs to look at court precedent, it seems that if a body has “the authority to grant something, I would think they’d be able to remove it.”
A preliminary hearing on the injunction is set for August 28 at the Montgomery County Courthouse, where plaintiffs will have to convince the judge that there is “substantial evidence” that the AMCC violated the Open Meetings Act.
If Anderson finds that there was substantial evidence that the commission violated the law, a final hearing would be scheduled within 60 days.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.