Bill seeks to expand Georgia medical marijuana program and end delays

Number of medical marijuana licenses would rise to 22

Credit: Bita Honarvar

Credit: Bita Honarvar

Georgia legislators are trying to jump-start the state’s stalled medical marijuana program, which is mired in prolonged disputes among companies competing for licenses to manufacture and sell the drug to patients.

A bill considered in committee Wednesday would attempt to break the stalemate by opening up the medical marijuana market, increasing the number of state licenses from six to 22.

Licenses would go to six companies that received tentative approval from a state board last year, along with 16 companies protesting that decision.

For seven years, state law has allowed registered patients in Georgia to use medical marijuana oil, but they still have no legal way to buy it here.

Parents and marijuana companies told lawmakers Wednesday that they need a solution.

“We’ve been fighting this battle, and honestly you should be ashamed for crushing the spirits of all the families that have come up here,” said Dale Jackson, who struggles to find cannabis oil for his 14-year-old autistic son. “You all have to do something. Please.”

Under House Bill 1400, licenses would be granted to companies by June 30, and then they’d have one year to begin operations.

Those companies would then be able to sell, grow and manufacture medical marijuana oil, which can have no more than 5% THC, the compound that gives marijuana users a high.

With the approval of a doctor, patients would be able to buy cannabis oil to treat conditions including seizures, terminal cancers and Parkinson’s disease. Over 20,000 people have registered with the state so far, but they remain unable to buy the oil they’re allowed to consume.

The start-up of the medical marijuana industry in Georgia has been delayed indefinitely by protests filed by businesses that sought but didn’t receive licenses when they were awarded by the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission in July.

Protesting companies said there were inconsistencies in the competitive bidding process, and they maintained added arguing that they would have been chosen for a license if it had been more fair. Since then, their protests have been moving slowly through an administrative appeal process.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Alan Powell, said appeals and potential lawsuits could further delay the medical marijuana licenses for three more years.

“This bill simply would do a rifle-shot way of cleaning that up,” said Powell, a Republican from Hartwell. “This is a real issue that needs to be addressed.”

Kristen Goodman of Symphony Medical, one of the companies that filed a protest, said the General Assembly needs to step in.

“We care about delivering this medicine to those people who need it and deserve it, and to make that happen quickly,” Goodman said. “The fact is we were all handed a flawed process.”

The House Low THC Subcommittee didn’t vote on the measure Wednesday and plans to resume hearings next week.


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