After protests and litigation derailed Georgia’s medical cannabis program, state regulators issued licenses to two companies in September to allow them to produce low-THC cannabis oil for the state’s registered patients.
Now, the Georgia Court of Appeals is set to take up a new legal challenge to the licensing process, again stalling the program.
Georgia passed a law in 2015 to allow registered patients to possess low-THC cannabis oil, but the statute did not establish a regulated system for cultivating, processing or dispensing cannabis in the state.
It wasn’t until 2019 that Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation into law to set up a regulatory framework for the production, processing and sale of medical cannabis oil that contains no more than 5% THC.
The 2019 law also established the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, which was tasked with drafting regulations for the industry and licensing up to six private companies to produce the oil and sell it to patients.
Sixty-nine companies applied for the licenses, and 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, while FFD GA Holdings, TheraTrue Georgia LLC, Natures GA LLC and Treevana Remedy Inc. were chosen to cultivate up to 50,000 square feet.
The companies were given one year to begin operations, and each licensee was permitted to open up to five retail locations to serve patients.
What followed has been a string of legal challenges and delays.
More than a dozen unsuccessful applicants initially filed protests, and the original licensing contracts were never finalized.
During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers considered legislation to revive the state’s stalled medical cannabis program. The House passed a bill that would have scrapped the six licenses that were awarded last year 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 named last year.
Kemp then appointed Sid Johnson, a former state Administrative Services commissioner and a current University of Georgia faculty member, as the new chair of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission to replace former chair Dr. Christopher Edwards; it was unclear whether Edwards’ departure was voluntary.
Kemp also announced that his office would allocate $150,000 from the Governor’s Emergency Fund to the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission to expedite the hearings on the licensing protests at the Office of State Administrative Hearings.
A judge rejected all the protests in September, which allowed the commission to grant its first two medical cannabis licenses to Botanical Sciences LLC and Trulieve Georgia Inc. later that same month.
Progress toward getting the medical cannabis program up and running came to a screeching halt again in October, however, as a court suspended those two licenses in the wake of a new lawsuit alleging that unsuccessful applicants were shut out without due process, according to an 11Alive.com report.
“The members of the Medical Cannabis Commission knew who the owners were of these companies, who the companies were affiliated with, and they scored in an arbitrary and frankly sometimes nonsensical way,” Kristen Goodman, a Savannah-based attorney who represents the plaintiffs, told the news outlet.
“Georgians have to know there was no corruption, that none of these licenses was bought,” added Atlanta-based attorney Jake Evans, who is also representing the plaintiffs in the case.
The Georgia Court of Appeals will now weigh in on the case, which could take months, FOX 5 Atlanta reported.