“It is my position as a commissioner, we owe a responsibility of transparency to the people of this state.”
By Ralph Chopoco, Alabama Reflector
The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission Monday formally voted to delay granting licenses for the growth, manufacture and production of medical cannabis until a third party reviews how applications for the licenses were scored earlier this year.
The decision, following a June 16 meeting where the commission decided for delay amid controversy over the process, also signaled a rejection of calls to restart applications entirely.
Two commissioners, health care attorney Loree Skelton and Charles Price, a retired Montgomery County circuit judge, voted against the proposal to delay the process.
The commission granted about 20 licenses for medical cannabis last month, but decided to delay the grants a few days later, citing potential irregularities in scoring applications.
After the vote on Monday, Skelton criticized the commission’s process of awarding the licenses.
“As a commissioner, I have not been given the opportunity to make an informed consent in knowing the decisions on the matters that have been put before me,” Skelton said. “Almost a year ago today, July 15 I believe was the day, I raised my initial concerns on a contract review. Where is the information that we need to be able to look at to be able to make an informed decision?”
Skelton was particularly critical of the commission granting anonymity to the people who assessed applicants’ qualifications.
The University of South Alabama, which assessed the licenses, brought in evaluators who reviewed the applications and determined the credibility of each license applicant. The evaluators gave the commission the results of the analysis and the scoring, but not the identity of the evaluators or the criteria they used to rank the applications.
“The information we were given gave us no criteria whatsoever as to where their numbers came from,” Skelton said. “We saw no analysis. We saw no summaries of what their numbers came from.”
The scores that emerged from the evaluations played a major role in the license decisions.
“They were going to tell me what they deemed was appropriate for me to know, when they deemed it was appropriate for me to know, and that I was to listen to that and follow their recommendations,” Skelton said. “That is not the way I read the statute, and I made that very clear in that meeting that it is my position as a commissioner, we owe a responsibility of transparency to the people of this state.”
Skelton said she expected to get access to the evaluations so she could come to an independent decision that incorporated the findings of the evaluators.
“When we are not given the opportunity to do our job to receive the information that we need, and we are told, ‘no, you may not have that information because we have to protect the integrity of the process,’” Skelton said. “It is my understanding that us sitting here, casting our votes, that is our job to protect the integrity of the process.”
The Commission’s problems began shortly after the June 12 meeting when the members announced who would be awarded the licenses for the different activities related to the medical cannabis industry. Shortly after the meeting, officials announced there was an error in the way that scores were tabulated and called for a halt to the process.
“We immediately, as a staff, began to realize that some things didn’t add up,” said John McMillan, the executive director of the commission. “Instead of trying to cover that up, which we probably would have gotten away with it, we knew the right thing to do was admit the problems and then go about fixing the problems.”
That led to a lawsuit questioning whether the Commission had the authority to halt the process. A hearing was held in which a Montgomery Circuit Court Judge issued a stay on the appeals process for applicants who were denied a license.
Another company then filed suit, requesting the Montgomery Circuit Court to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction for the AMCC’s decision to delay awarding the license. The court issued a stay on top of the AMCC’s delay July 6, affirming the commission’s decision.
The Commission has contracted with an auditor KPMG, based out of Montvale, New Jersey, to review the tabulated scores.
After KPMG completes the review, the commission will consider a motion to void the scores from the first award and reconsider license awards. That will likely happen at a meeting scheduled for August 10.
Skelton and Price sought to have a subset of commissioners review license applications for integrated facilities—which grow, process and distribute medical cannabis—then bring 10 of the most qualified applicants before the commission, who would then grant licenses to five.
That motion failed.
A second motion from Skelton requested the commission not have a review by KMPG, and instead meet with the applicants and come to some kind of agreement to move forward with awarding the licenses.
The motion failed for a lack of a second.
Those denied licenses said Monday criticized the commission’s decision.
“The process of starting over is the only thing that would make it fair,” said David Ware, of Greenup Corporation based in Kellyton, Alabama, who applied for but did not receive a license. “There is nothing lost. You are not even losing the application fee If you take that application fee and give it back to the applicant and say, ‘hey, we are going to do this over, that way everybody is back to square one.”
Mike Dowd of Specialty Products of Alabama in Foley, Alabama, also denied a license, said his company had invested $25 million in its facilities. He said he had “lots of questions” about the KPMG review.
“You can’t do the same thing over again and get a different result,” he said. “My question is, ‘what are they going to do?’”