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Uncontested medical marijuana licenses could move forward amid litigation, judge says

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The circuit judge hearing a variety of lawsuits related to the stalled issuance of medical marijuana production and distribution licenses on Wednesday said he may allow companies with non-contested permits to move forward.

During the hearing, Montgomery Circuit Court Judge James Anderson heard a number of arguments from attorneys representing different companies that had applied for one of six different types of medical marijuana licenses. 

Five of the six types of licenses permit companies to perform specific tasks within the grow-to-sale process, such as cultivation or transportation. Integrated facility licenses, by far the most sought-after license, permit companies to perform every step in the process.

The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission has already attempted to award licenses twice, but has yet to actually issue said licenses amid a flurry of lawsuits that allege the company selection process was unfair. 

At the hearing, Anderson suggested he would likely modify a temporary restraining order he previously placed on the issuance of licenses to allow for the non-contested licenses to move forward. Those licenses would include secure transporter, cultivation, and state testing laboratory licenses.

“Until I’m convinced otherwise, that’s my intent: to let the non-controversial ones move forward,” he said.

Anderson also noted that the impetus for all the litigation against the AMCC was likely the limited number of licenses the commission is permitted to issue in certain categories, prompting most attorneys in the courtroom to nod in agreement.

“The Legislature set out certain numbers, which may be the mother of all these problems, and that’s something the Legislature could fix, (but) you sure can’t bet on what the Legislature’s going to do,” he said about the 2021 law allowing for the use of some marijuana products for specific ailments and illnesses.

“So right now, we’ve got the law like it is whether anybody likes it or not, and that’s the way it’s got to be enforced.”

While nearly all attorneys agreed that the limited number of licenses was an issue, several did not agree with the idea of allowing some licenses to be issued, while leaving others in limbo.

Furthermore, some attorneys, including those representing Alabama Always and Bragg Canna of Alabama, argued that the scores given to companies during the selection process should be thrown out entirely.

“We’ve been waiting for four months to try to do something about the scoring system, and we’ve explained why it’s wrong, why it was inconsistent with the statute,” said William Somerville, attorney for Alabama Always.

“If they consider scores on the next round of licenses, we’re going to be back here for a long time litigating the validity of the scores. The way you can avoid that is to get rid of the scoring system, and require the commission to make its decision based on the statutory and regulatory criteria.”

Mike Jackson, an attorney for the AMCC, argued that the commission should be allowed to hold its next meeting on Oct. 26 – its first meeting since adopting new rules – before the judge made a decision on the matter.

“They’re not going to be happy about the scoring unless they get the right score… nothing the commission does is going to satisfy them,” Jackson said.

“They’re going to have a chance to make presentations to the commission, (and) I guarantee you, if Alabama Always is awarded a license, they’re not going to bring any of this stuff up, so why don’t we wait and see what happens after Oct. 26. The commission has absolute discretion on what they use to award licenses; they can ignore the scoring completely, they can take it into consideration… they have absolute discretion.”

Not all attorneys involved in litigation against the AMCC wanted the scores thrown out, with Saxon Main, an attorney for Verano, holding the position that they should remain. Due to what Anderson called a “difference in opinion” among the attorneys, he maintained his intent to allow the uncontested licenses to be issued.

Anderson made no rulings during the hearing, but set a tentative date for the next hearing as Oct. 30, four days after the AMCC’s next meeting.

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