Georgia medical marijuana program stalled by protests, bureaucracy

No end in sight for thousands of patients

Medical marijuana was supposed to be growing in Georgia for patients by now.

Instead, a sluggish process of awarding marijuana licenses to six companies has stalled indefinitely amid protests filed by several losing businesses.

Georgia lawmakers said this week they’re trying to find ways to break the stalemate created by a marijuana licensing law they passed more than 2½ years ago. They’re considering introducing bills that would provide access to over 20,000 registered patients who are allowed to use medical marijuana but have no legal way to obtain it.

“Bureaucracy is for the birds. I want to get people help today,” state Rep. Rick Williams, a Republican from Milledgeville, said during a hearing Monday. “Nothing will tear your heart out more than to have your child hurting and going through this stuff. We’ve got to do something.”

Georgia’s medical marijuana board in July chose six companies out of 69 applicants to grow and distribute the medication to registered patients. Then 15 losing companies filed protests that must be reviewed by an administrative hearing officer before licenses can be issued. Lawsuits could follow, causing further delays.

Andrew Turnage, executive director of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, couldn’t tell state representatives how long it would take to resolve the protests.

“There’s absolutely no desire to create delay in this process,” Turnage said during a hearing of the House Regulated Industries Committee. “The process does have key requirements. … If those items are overlooked or neglected, it creates a situation where the state isn’t able to do what it is required to do by law.”

The protesting companies say they deserved to be issued a medical marijuana license for a potentially lucrative government-regulated industry. They allege inconsistent scoring in the competitive bidding process, unclear criteria and arbitrary awards.

Winning businesses will 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, according to a state law passed in 2019. With approval of a doctor, patients would be able to buy the oil to treat conditions including seizures, terminal cancers and Parkinson’s disease.

Legislators discussed several possibilities to jump-start Georgia’s medical marijuana program, including opening it to more businesses, granting temporary licenses or importing cannabis oil from other states, an idea that would violate federal laws against transporting illicit drugs across state lines.

They plan to meet again in December to consider ideas for bills during the legislative session that begins in January.

“Three years to do this is absolutely ridiculous to help the people of Georgia that need it so much,” said state Rep. Gerald Greene, a Republican from Cuthbert. “They just felt like the system has failed us.”