Georgia medical marijuana licensing bill advances

The House Regulated Industries Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to advance a bill that would jump-start Georgia's stalled medical marijuana program by issuing licenses to 22 companies. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM

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The House Regulated Industries Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to advance a bill that would jump-start Georgia's stalled medical marijuana program by issuing licenses to 22 companies. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM

House committee backs bill allowing 22 marijuana businesses

A proposal to revive Georgia’s stalled medical marijuana program cleared its first committee on a unanimous vote Tuesday.

The legislation would attempt to break bureaucratic delays by issuing medical marijuana licenses to 22 companies, which would then be authorized to produce and sell cannabis oil to registered patients.

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

State Rep. Alan Powell said he wants to fix a “terrible process” that has frustrated patients and businesses.

“We passed a bill three years ago to allow for the growing and processing of medical cannabis, and three years later it’s still not come to fruition,” said Powell, a Republican from Hartwell and the sponsor of House Bill 1400. “Sometimes things happen, but that doesn’t make it right.”

The start-up of Georgia’s medical marijuana industry has been postponed by protests from businesses that applied for — but didn’t receive — medical marijuana licenses when they were awarded by the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission in July.

Since then, their protests have been moving slowly through an administrative process to evaluate complaints of inconsistencies in the competitive bidding process. Even after the protests are resolved by the commission, those companies could file lawsuits that might take three years or more to move through the court system.

Registered patients with illnesses including severe seizures and Parkinson’s disease have been allowed to use medical marijuana oil since 2015, but they still have no legal way to buy it in Georgia. The oil is consumed orally and it can have no more than 5% THC, the compound that gives marijuana users a high.

“This whole process was marred in a lot of nontransparency,” said Bryan Scott of Scott’s Pharmacy in Macon, an investor in one of the protesting companies. “This bill would be the best way to rectify some of the wrongs.”

Now that the bill has passed the House Regulated Industries Committee, it could soon be considered for a vote by the full House of Representatives.