A new push at the state Capitol to get Georgia’s medical cannabis program on track

Gov. Brian Kemp signs HB 324 in 2019. (Rahul Bali/WABE)

There could be hope for thousands of patients waiting to get legal access to medical cannabis oil grown in Georgia.

A bill filed Thursday at the state Capitol is meant to unjam the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission.

In July, the GA Access to Medical Cannabis Commission awarded six licenses to companies to grow and manufacture low-THC oil. Those were formally protested by 16 other bidders.

Republican State Rep. Alan Powell of Hartwell says House Bill 1400 would grant licenses to those 16.

“We would have to take care of the 16 and we have them give a license of some sort. Just one. Not multiple,” Powell said. “If that is the will of the General Assembly to do that. That speeds up and gets it out of the court system and moves it forward.”

At a January meeting of the commission, executive director Andrew Turnage said their legislative agenda would include expanding the number of licenses.

Powell’s bill would bring to the total number of licenses to 22.

Otherwise, Powell is concerned that the protests and legal action could mean the state’s low-THC oil program could be legally tied up for years.

Powell believes his proposal could mean Georgians on the Georgia Department of Public Health’s low-THC oil registry page could get a hold of medical cannabis oil by the end of the year.

“The six that have been tentatively approved. A lot of those have already made investments in land and property, buildings and whatever, getting into moving to preparation,” Powell said. “I am told it could probably on the ground and up and running by the end of the year.”

Powell is confident that his bill will not lead to new lawsuits.

“Georgia’s Hope Act” was passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in 2019.

Powell says he and families seeking low-THC oil have been frustrated by the implementation of the state’s program.

“The General Assembly passed the medical cannabis law three years ago. It was passed overwhelmingly. The framework was set up. We around here three later and it’s still no further,” Powell said.

There are more than 23,000 people are on Georgia’s low-THC oil registry.

There is a limited list of conditions covered in the registry including ALS, autism, MS and intractable pain.

Powell says right now some families go out of state to get low-THC oil, while others buy marijuana illegally and make the oil themselves.

Powell says his bill puts more of the process in the open under the Georgia Open Records Act.

House Bill 1400 also gets rid of the Medical Cannabis Commission Oversight Committee. That committee includes appointees from the House speaker and lieutenant governor.

The new committee would consist of the members of the State House and State Senate Regulated Industries Committees. Powell chairs the House Regulated Industries Committee, which is where his bill has been assigned.