Alabama’s medical cannabis program delayed again over open meetings lawsuit

By: - August 17, 2023 4:23 pm
A row of cannabis plants in a greenhouse.

A cannabis farm greenhouse. The director of the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission resigned on Thursday, saying he did not want the commission to get bogged down in a lawsuit. (Getty Images)

A Montgomery County Circuit Judge Thursday put a hold on Alabama’s medical cannabis program amid a lawsuit alleging the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC) violated the state’s Open Meetings Act at its most recent meeting.

The stay, issued by Judge James Anderson, followed a heated hearing where an attorney for the AMCC suggested the commission would air applicants’ “dirty laundry.”

Applicants denied a license won’t be able to request an investigative hearing until after the stay is lifted, and the commission will have to put site visits and evaluations on hold. AMCC Director John McMillan said that it will be “impossible” to issue licenses at an Aug. 31 meeting.

“We’ll most likely have to schedule another meeting,” McMillan said after the hearing, and added that they would have to complete site visits.

Commission member looks at chair as chairman speaks.
Commissioner John McMillan, right, looks at new chair-elect, Rex Vaughn, middle, in the Aug. 10, 2023 Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission meeting in Montgomery. Sam Blakemore, vice chair-elect, is on the left. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

Alabama Always, which sued the commission last month over the appointment of former chair Steven Stokes, filed a lawsuit against the AMCC, alleging the commission violated the state’s open meetings law at its Aug. 10 meeting. The company, which applied for but did not receive a license, alleged that commission members privately nominated companies for public votes on license awards during an executive session.

The lawsuit alleges that commission members were instructed to seal their nominations in an envelope during the executive session, and the companies with the most nominations received a public vote in the Aug. 10 meeting.

The AMCC re-awarded licenses for the production and distribution of medical cannabis at the Aug. 10 meeting, two months after stopping earlier awards amid questions about the evaluation of applications.


The judge allowed other parties to join the suit by the end of the week. Alabama Always and other companies suing AMCC will have to prove that the commission violated state law.

Will Somerville, attorney for Alabama Always, said after the hearing that the process wouldn’t have been delayed if the commission “were doing things the right way.”

“The delay has been caused by their refusal to follow the law every time. They keep on doing things they shouldn’t do. And they keep on being stuck,” Somerville said.

During the hearing, Will Webster, an attorney for the AMCC, seemingly frustrated by the process, asked the judge how the commission should move forward with business.

Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission re-awards licenses; one company loses out

“Because every time we go out and come back, somebody else has something else to say about what we’ve done, and I want to know what it is that we can do,” he said to the judge.

Anderson said that he can’t tell the commission how to conduct business. He said that he just gets “stuck with what the allegations are.”

“I’ll tell you what we plan to do, Judge,” Webster said in response. “If this has to go back one more time. We are done protecting anyone’s reputation or character. We don’t have to go in executive session, and we won’t. We will put forth everyone’s dirty laundry, and everyone will hear about it.”

Anderson said they don’t have to go into executive session.

“That’s something y’all choose to do, or not to do,” Anderson said.

“It’s just what’s going to happen,” Webster said.

McMillan after the hearing said that “dirty laundry” meant issues that came up in background checks that “are part of this decision.”

Anderson set a hearing on the commission’s alleged Open Meetings Act violations for Aug. 28, 2023 at 1:30 p.m.


Updated at 4:28 p.m. on Aug. 17 to add McMillan’s comments on airing applicants’ “dirty laundry.”

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Alander Rocha
Alander Rocha

Alander Rocha is a journalist based in Montgomery, and he reports on government, policy and healthcare. He previously worked for KFF Health News and the Red & Black, Georgia's student newspaper. He is a Tulane and Georgia alumnus with a two-year stint in the U.S. Peace Corps.