Georgia House approves bill to break medical marijuana logjam

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Proposal would expand cannabis production licenses to 15

A bill to expand medical marijuana production in Georgia beyond two startup companies easily passed the state House on Monday.

The House voted 170-2 to approve the bill, which attempts to circumvent lawsuits that have prevented the state from issuing additional medical marijuana production licenses.

Under the legislation, the government could award a total of 15 licenses, which lawmakers hope would end court challenges filed by nine companies. Those companies allege the licensing process was secretive and unfair.

Georgia law has allowed registered patients to use low THC oil since 2015, but they’ve never had a legal way to buy it. The two companies licensed by the state, Trulieve Georgia and Botanical Sciences, plan to begin operations by late spring or summer.

State Rep. Alan Powell said the bill would prevent a “monopoly” on the medical marijuana market by the two companies. Under a law passed in 2019, the General Assembly called for six production licenses, but four of them are on hold while lawsuits are pending.

“It’s time for us to move on. This isn’t about us. This is about the people of Georgia,” said Powell, a Republican from Hartwell. “Let’s fix this system.”

Low THC oil is allowed for registered patients suffering from several approved illnesses, including severe seizures, Parkinson’s disease and terminal cancers. The oil can have no more than 5% THC, the compound that gives users a high.

If House Bill 196 becomes law, it also requires more transparency in the competitive process among companies seeking to obtain production licenses. Heavily redacted documents from companies seeking marijuana production licenses contributed to complaints about the process.

The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission would decide on which companies deserve the state’s additional licenses.

The legislation now advances to the state Senate for further consideration. Last year, a bill that also sought to jump-start the production licensing process fell short in the Senate on a 28-27 vote.