“If I did not step aside, then that process would probably be stopped until my issue was resolved. And I didn’t want to be the reason to stop the whole process.”
By Alander Rocha, Alabama Reflector
Dr. Steven Stokes, the chair of the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission (AMCC), resigned from the commission Thursday morning.
Stokes, an oncologist who had served as chair since 2021, said in an interview Thursday afternoon that he resigned to prevent the commission and the medical cannabis approval process from being tied up in a lawsuit alleging that his appointment to the commission violated state law.
“If I did not step aside, then that process would probably be stopped until my issue was resolved,” Stokes said. “And I didn’t want to be the reason to stop the whole process.”
The lawsuit, filed in late July, alleged that Stokes could not serve on the AMCC commission because at the time of his appointment in July 2021, he was a trustee for the University of South Alabama. The lawsuit cited state law prohibiting any AMCC member from being a “current public official.”
John McMillan, the executive director of the AMCC, said in an interview Thursday morning that Stokes will be a “great loss” to the commission and said finding another oncologist with his expertise will be difficult for the state. But he does not foresee Stokes’s resignation delaying the process.
“He’s one of the two or three members of the commission that understand that real practical and beneficial benefits or assets that come from being able to use this medicine,” McMillan said.
The director said the AMCC would probably elect a new chairman at its August 10 meeting. But he said that could change depending on the court hearing on August 7.
“It won’t interfere with our efforts except we’ll just lose his valuable input and expertise,” McMillan said.
The AMCC was set to award licenses to businesses that applied to participate in the state’s medical cannabis program in June. After AMCC announced which companies were awarded a license, those denied a license raised questions about the scoring transparency.
Less than a week after announcing the license winners, the commission announced a stay on the awarding of licenses, citing “scoring inconsistencies” that would have led to “catastrophic” results if the licenses were issued.
The University of South Alabama brought in evaluators who reviewed the initial license applications.
Following the stay by the commission, Alabama Always, one of the companies denied a license, filed a lawsuit alleging that the commission violated the state law that legalized and set up a market for medical cannabis in 2019 when the agency denied its application for a license.
Last week, the plaintiff in Dr. Stokes’s lawsuit moved to consolidate Stokes’s lawsuit with the Alabama Always case. William Somerville, based in Birmingham, is the lawyer for both cases.
In a statement following the resignation, Sommerville said Alabama Always applauded Stokes’s decision.
“We and other applicants, who followed the application process to the letter, just want the commission to do what is right—follow the law, adhere to the rules and regulations of the selection process and give each and every application a thorough and comprehensive review,” said Sommerville in a statement.
The Commission is set to meet on August 10, at which time they are expected to re-award licenses.
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