Georgia Lawmakers Again Consider Reworking State’s Medical Cannabis Law

Johnnie Pratt

Georgia lawmakers are again considering legislation to rework the state’s medical cannabis law, with a House committee approving a bill last month aimed at resolving litigation that has stalled the rollout of the program.

Georgia passed a law in 2015 that allows registered patients to possess cannabis oil containing no more than 5% THC, but the statute did not establish a regulatory framework for the cultivation, processing or commercial sale of cannabis in the state.

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In 2019, Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation into law to allow for the production and sale of low-THC medical cannabis oil, and the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission was formed to draft regulations for the industry and to license up to six private companies to produce the oil and sell it to patients.

Regulators tentatively named six license winners in July 2021. Trulieve Georgia, Inc., an affiliate of Florida-based Trulieve Cannabis Corp., and Botanical Sciences LLC, a Glennville-based company, were selected to grow up to 100,000 square feet of medical cannabis and FFD GA Holdings, TheraTrue Georgia LLC, Natures GA LLC and Treevana Remedy Inc. were chosen to cultivate up to 50,000 square feet. Each licensee was permitted to open up to five retail locations.

While the license winners were initially given one year to launch operations, a string of legal challenges has since delayed the program, starting with more than a dozen unsuccessful applicants initially filing protests.

RELATED:  Georgia’s Small Farmers Shut Out During ‘Secretive’ Cannabis Licensing Process, Advocate Says

A judge rejected those protests in September 2022, which allowed the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission to finalize the award of its first two medical cannabis licenses to Botanical Sciences LLC and Trulieve Georgia Inc.

New litigation quickly ensued with a lawsuit alleging that unsuccessful applicants were shut out without due process. As a result, a court suspended the two licenses awarded by the commission, and the Georgia Court of Appeals agreed to allow five unsuccessful applicants to move forward with challenging the licensing process.

During last year’s legislative session, lawmakers considered legislation to resolve the flurry of lawsuits and relaunch the state’s stalled medical cannabis program.

The House passed a bill that would have scrapped the six licenses that were awarded in 2021 and restarted the licensing process. The Senate approved separate legislation that would have required the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission to license six companies that had previously applied for licenses, but not necessarily the six that were tentatively given licenses two years ago.

Lawmakers ultimately shot down the House’s proposal and advanced the Senate bill, but the legislation died at the end of last year’s legislative session.

Lawmakers are now considering new legislation, House Bill 196, which would allow regulators to issue medical cannabis production licenses to additional applicants, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The bill proposes awarding licenses to the four additional companies that were tentatively selected in 2021, as well as eight companies that weren’t initially chosen but that filed lawsuits alleging that the licensing process was unfair, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

H.B. 196 would also remove protections outlined in Georgia’s medical cannabis law that kept most of the applicants’ information confidential, which has been a point of contention in some of the legal challenges against the licensing process, according to the news outlet.

Supporters of the legislation, which is sponsored by Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, say that the proposal will invalidate the lawsuits by issuing licenses to all companies involved. Otherwise, Powell said it could take months or years for the litigation to be resolved, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

H.B. 196 passed the Georgia House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee in a 7-5 vote in February, the Washington Times Herald reported.

Kristen Goodman, an attorney representing several of the companies seeking a medical cannabis license, said the bill “is the best solution” to get Georgia’s program back on track, according to The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

“We have ended up with a complete insult to the integrity of our procurement process,” she said. “It was a simple train wreck.”

As H.B. 196 works its way through the Legislature, Georgia’s two medical cannabis licensees, Botanical Sciences LLC and Trulieve Georgia Inc., are back to preparing their businesses to serve the market, Andrew Turnage, executive director for the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“The production licensees are clearly on a path to opening those dispensaries in late spring,” Turnage said. “The dialogue has been in the future tense all the way up until now. That future tense is just weeks down the road.”

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