Competing Georgia medical marijuana production bills advance

State Rep. Bill Werkheiser speaks on behalf of House Bill 1425, which passed 169-5 on Tuesday, March 15, 2022. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday, March 15, 2022. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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State Rep. Bill Werkheiser speaks on behalf of House Bill 1425, which passed 169-5 on Tuesday, March 15, 2022. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday, March 15, 2022. Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia patients have no way to legally buy cannabis oil

Lawmakers tried to revive Georgia’s stalled medical marijuana program Tuesday, advancing different bills through the state House and Senate that aim to issue licenses for businesses to manufacture and sell the medicine.

Both measures attempt to jump-start cannabis oil production following delays since a state commission announced plans last summer to award licenses to six companies. Protests by 16 losing companies alleged the process was unfair, creating a bureaucratic deadlock that still hasn’t been resolved.

Georgia has allowed doctor-approved patients to consume cannabis oil since 2015, but there’s still no way for them to legally buy it.

“I wish I could say that we’re in a good spot, but we’re not,” said state Rep. Bill Werkheiser, a Republican from Glennville. “If we do nothing, we’re in a bad position, and if we do something, it’s not so great either. But I think we’ve got something that will move the process forward. This issue is too important to get wrong.”

ExploreLIVE: Georgia bill tracker 2022

The House proposal would restart the medical marijuana licensing program from scratch, discarding tentative awards to the six companies that were announced last year. House Bill 1425 passed on a 169-5 vote

The Senate legislation takes a different approach by setting a May 31 deadline for the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission to authorize six companies that had previously applied for licenses, but not necessarily the six selected in July. Senate Bill 609 was approved on 52-0 vote.

“The sole purpose of the bill is to move the ball forward on getting medical cannabis to the folks on the registry,” said state Sen. Dean Burke, a Republican from Bainbridge. “The process, most people would say, has been flawed.”

Neither the House nor the Senate proposals would give registered patients certainty that they’ll be able to buy cannabis oil soon.

The Senate legislation would disrupt an ongoing licensing process, creating the possibility of lawsuits from companies that could delay cannabis oil production.

The House measure doesn’t set a date by which licenses would be issued, and a bidding process would take months, followed by awards and then potential protests and lawsuits by losing companies. A new competitive bidding process would grade bids by an independent third party instead of by political appointees to the cannabis commission.

So far, there are over 20,000 registered medical marijuana patients in Georgia authorized to orally consume cannabis oil for illnesses including severe seizures, Parkinson’s disease and terminal cancers. The oil can have no more than 5% THC, the compound that gives marijuana users a high.

Both bills that advanced Tuesday will next be considered by the opposite chamber. Both the House and Senate would need to agree on one bill and pass it before this year’s legislative session concludes April 4.

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