Georgia’s new medical marijuana program stalls 6 months after law signed

Shannon Cloud, left, and her 13-year-old daughter, Alaina, attended a Senate committee hearing on a bill the General Assembly passed this year that allows for up to six companies to grow medical marijuana. Alaina uses a medical marijuana oil to treat seizures from Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy. Shannon Cloud said a lot of paid lobbyists, working for companies that hope to obtain licenses, fought for the bill’s passage. “A lot of people feel this is a bad thing,” she said, “but we feel it helped us because they had access to legislators that we didn’t.” Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com
Shannon Cloud, left, and her 13-year-old daughter, Alaina, attended a Senate committee hearing on a bill the General Assembly passed this year that allows for up to six companies to grow medical marijuana. Alaina uses a medical marijuana oil to treat seizures from Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy. Shannon Cloud said a lot of paid lobbyists, working for companies that hope to obtain licenses, fought for the bill’s passage. “A lot of people feel this is a bad thing,” she said, “but we feel it helped us because they had access to legislators that we didn’t.” Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Six months after Gov. Brian Kemp signed a law allowing companies to grow and sell medical marijuana in Georgia for the first time, the program remains stalled because he and other top politicians still haven't appointed members of a commission to oversee the expansion.

Aides to Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston haven’t said why there’s no members yet for the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission. But until they do, the expansion is effectively sidelined.

The legislation, House Bill 324, gave the seven-member commission vast oversight over the state's medical marijuana operation, including picking which businesses can grow the plant and developing the licensing requirements that retailers must meet to sell it.

It's a cornerstone of legislation that creates a new but limited marijuana industry in Georgia. The legislation was celebrated as a milestone for patients who were previously allowed to use the drug — but had to violate state and federal laws to purchase it.

One potential cause for the lag time is that the commission is essentially a startup, unlike other boards and agencies with built-in procedures and existing members. State officials say they’ve been inundated with applications — more than 50 candidates have surfaced for the spots.

The law also sets strict requirements for appointments, including a rule that commission members must not have any ownership stake or other financial interest in a cannabis oil firm during their term — and five years after it ends.

Still, the delay is a setback for patients and their families who celebrated the law's passage with hopes it would provide much-needed treatment for severe seizures, terminal cancers, Parkinson's disease and other illnesses.

“It’s extremely frustrating for medically fragile patients to finally get a bill passed that allows the distribution of medical cannabis oil, and then still be waiting on Governor Kemp to establish the commission,” said Blaine Cloud, whose daughter Alaina suffers from a severe form of epilepsy that could be treated by the drug.

“Registered patients and many others continue to suffer every day – and will continue to suffer since it will take time to get companies licensed once the commission is finally established.”

Read more here: Georgia medical marijuana expansion stalls amid 'frustrating' delay

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