Companies seeking Georgia medical marijuana licenses lose appeal

Four cannabis production licenses on hold amid legal battle
The Nathan Deal Judicial Center, which houses the Georgia Supreme Court and the Georgia Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals ruled against several companies seeking medical marijuana production licenses on Thursday. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

The Nathan Deal Judicial Center, which houses the Georgia Supreme Court and the Georgia Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals ruled against several companies seeking medical marijuana production licenses on Thursday. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

An appeals court decision Thursday could help resolve an impasse that has prevented Georgia’s government from issuing medical marijuana production licenses to four companies.

The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled against several companies that sued after they didn’t win state licenses, alleging that the state’s selection process was arbitrary, secretive and unfair. A three-judge panel affirmed lower court decisions that had dismissed the companies’ cases.

But the licensing disputes aren’t over. Additional lawsuits are still pending, appeals could be brought to the Georgia Supreme Court, and it’s unclear when licenses might be awarded.

Just two companies are currently allowed to manufacture and sell low THC oil to registered patients even though six licenses are authorized under a state law passed in 2019. The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission declined to award four licenses for smaller growing facilities last year while court cases are pending.

Medical marijuana is available to Georgians with approval from a physician to treat severe illnesses including seizures, terminal cancers, Parkinson’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder. Low THC oil can have no more than 5% THC, the compound that gives users a high.

One of the companies awaiting a production license, Fine Fettle, hopes the Court of Appeals decision leads to the opening of the company’s growing facility in Macon — a giant warehouse that’s already built.

“It further removes any level of doubt that this process was thorough, it was clear, and that ultimately, the best applicants were the deserved winners to bring the medication to the patients of Georgia,” said Ben Zachs, Fine Fettle’s chief operating officer.

Credit: JASON VORHEES / Macon Telegraph

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Credit: JASON VORHEES / Macon Telegraph

GA Bioscience Research, one of the companies that wasn’t chosen for a license, is considering whether to pursue further appeals and will soon decide on its next steps, said Jake Evans, an attorney for the company.

The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission is reviewing the Court of Appeals decision before deciding when it can move forward with issuing more production licenses, said Andrew Turnage, the commission’s executive director

“This ruling certainly upholds the position the commission has had from the beginning that we had a solid process,” Turnage said. “We ensured that due process was followed and people had their day in court.”

So far, two companies have opened seven dispensaries in Georgia this year after receiving state licenses: Botanical Sciences and Trulieve.

The four companies that were selected by the commission but haven’t yet been awarded licenses are Fine Fettle, TheraTrue Georgia, Natures GA and Treevana Remedy.