Georgia’s medical marijuana program still bogged down

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by Dave Williams | Capitol Beat News Service


ATLANTA – Georgia lawmakers expressed frustration Thursday that the state’s medical marijuana program has yet to yield a drop of cannabis oil nine months after Gov. Brian Kemp announced a plan to break a logjam of lawsuits.

The Georgia Commission for Access to Medical Cannabis voted in September to award the first two of six low-THC cannabis oil production licenses the General Assembly authorized in legislation the General Assembly passed in 2019.

But those licenses remain on hold until the commission adopts rules governing the state’s medical cannabis program, Chase Bradshaw, chief of operations for Botantical Sciences LLC, one of the two licensees, told members of a Georgia House study committee Thursday.

The other four licenses haven’t even been awarded because of lawsuits mounted by 16 companies that weren’t chosen when the commission tentatively awarded the six licenses in 2021.

State Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, a member of the study committee, blamed the legislature’s failure to pass a bill he introduced last year aimed at heading off the potential for lengthy litigation by the 16 losing bidders by increasing the number of licenses to be awarded from six to 22.

After the legislation died on the final day of last year’s legislative session, Kemp responded by directing $150,000 from the Governor’s Emergency Fund to expedite the hearing of legal protests filed by the losing bidders.

Powell, chairman of the House Regulated Industries Committee, said a legislative fix still is needed.

“You’re going to be hearing a lot more about this issue this session,” he said.

Meanwhile, the commission is moving forward with rules for the program.

Andrew Turnage, the commission’s executive director, said a public hearing on the proposed rules will be held Jan. 18. The commission’s board is scheduled to vote on the rules a week later, he said.

Rep. Dale Washburn, R-Macon, another member of the study committee, said he’s frustrated the state’s medical cannabis program still isn’t delivering almost four years after the General Assembly legalized the in-state growth and distribution of a product that remains illegal in Georgia.

“This medicine is needed,” he said. “People are suffering every day who need it and have to break the law.”

The 2023 session of the General Assembly kicks off next week.

— [This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.]