Georgia medical marijuana production bill falls one vote short

Rep. Bill Werkheiser speaks about a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1425, on Sine Die, the last day of the General Assembly at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Monday, April 4, 2022. Branden Camp/ For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

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Rep. Bill Werkheiser speaks about a medical marijuana bill, House Bill 1425, on Sine Die, the last day of the General Assembly at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Monday, April 4, 2022. Branden Camp/ For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

No relief for patients in stalled cannabis oil program

Georgia lawmakers couldn’t agree on a compromise medical marijuana bill Monday that would have finally allowed businesses to grow and sell cannabis oil to registered patients.

Without a bill, Georgia’s medical marijuana program remains stalled amid a drawn-out government process to authorize companies to manufacture the drug.

The legislation sought to award production licenses to six companies by June 7, giving over 22,000 patients a way to obtain a medicine they’ve been allowed to consume since 2015.

But the Senate tabled the bill on a 28-27 vote, and it never resurfaced before this year’s legislative session ended shortly after midnight. The legislation had previously passed the House.

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Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler said she opposed the bill because it would have steered Georgia’s medical marijuana licenses to winning companies while complaints from losing businesses are pending.

“We just want to get it right,” said Butler, a Democrat from Stone Mountain. “Don’t keep picking and choosing. Let everybody have an opportunity to bring an application to have a license, then make your choices based on the criteria that you put forward.”

The proposal was an effort to break a deadlock that has delayed the state’s medical marijuana program since it was created three years ago. Protests and legal threats by losing companies preventing licenses from being awarded to six winning companies tentatively chosen last year by the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission.

State Sen. Ben Watson said patients have been waiting too long for relief.

“We’ve been working on this for 10 years, and we have not been getting this oil to the children that they deserve,” said Watson, a Republican from Savannah.

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The measure, House Bill 1425, also sought three additional production licenses that would have been awarded by March 31, 2023.

State law allows registered patients with illnesses including severe seizures, Parkinson’s disease and terminal cancers to orally consume cannabis oil with no more than 5% THC, the compound that gives marijuana users a high.

But until business licenses are issued, there’s no way for patients to legally purchase cannabis oil.

Lacking a new law, the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission will continue working through its contentious licensing process.

ajc.com

Credit: ArLuther Lee

Credit: ArLuther Lee

The commission plans to finish hearing 16 protests from losing companies by the end of June, and it could then potentially move forward with awarding licenses to six winning companies.

Losing companies have threatened to sue, however, which could further delay the program even after winning companies are chosen.