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​Medical marijuana program fix passes Georgia House and Senate


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Mar. 19, 2022 - 9:06 AM

​Medical marijuana program fix passes Georgia House and Senate

The Newnan Times-Herald

By Dave Williams |Capitol Beat News Service

ATLANTA - The Georgia House and Senate passed separate bills Tuesday aimed at restarting a medical marijuana program that has been sidetracked by a dispute over the awarding of licenses to produce low-THC cannabis oil.

Both bills would throw out the selection process a commission the state created to oversee the program used to tentatively award licenses to six companies to grow marijuana and convert the leafy crop to cannabis oil.

The Senate bill, which passed unanimously, instructs the commission to restart the selection process and award six licenses by May 31.

The House version, which passed 169-5, sets an Aug. 1 deadline for the commission to obtain enough oil to meet the current needs of Georgia patients.

However, it goes a step further by requiring the state Department of Administrative Services (DOAS) - rather than the commission - to issue a new request for proposals. The DOAS would bring in an independent consultant to score the bids.

After legalizing possession of cannabis oil in Georgia seven years ago, the General Assembly created the commission in 2019, with the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker appointing its members.

The commission tentatively awarded two "Class 1" licenses last summer authorizing the winning bidders to grow marijuana in up to 100,000 square feet of space and four "Class 2" licenses to grow the crop in a space of up to 50,000 square feet.

Sixteen companies denied licenses have filed legal protests claiming the selection process was unfair and arbitrary, threatening to tie up the program in lengthy litigation.

Starting over with consultants playing a key role in the licensing process is the fairest way to get the long-delayed program off the ground, Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, told his House colleagues Tuesday.

"It moves this process out of the hands of a bunch of appointed folks and puts it in the hands of professionals," he said.

Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, who sponsored the 2019 bill, urged lawmakers to stay focused on the 20,000 Georgia patients who are on the state registry to receive cannabis oil once the program gets started.

"There are constituents in just about every one of your districts who need this," he said.

"The sole purpose of the bill is to move the ball forward toward getting medical cannabis to folks on the registry," said Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, the Senate bill's chief sponsor.

The House bill also would add Georgians with ulcerative colitis to the list of those eligible to obtain cannabis oil. The list of eligible diseases already includes seizure disorders, Parkinson's disease, terminal cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder and sickle-cell anemia.

The two bills passed on Crossover Day, the deadline for bills to clear at least one legislative chamber to remain alive for the year. The House bill now heads to the Senate, while the Senate measure moves to the House.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.