growing medical cannabis in georgia

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget originally recommended the commission receive a startup budget of $1.2 million. Instead, lawmakers allocated $225,000 for the 2020 budget year. The commission reported that funding didn’t cover its basic expenses. For the just-concluded 2021 budget year, the commission requested $531,000 to fund operating expenses and add an attorney. It received $352,137.

The commission previously promised to issue licenses by June 30. Patients and applicants have grown frustrated by the wait.

After nearly two hours of closed executive session, the commission chair addressed members of the public who had tuned in to the virtual meeting to say they would not award licenses yet, while acknowledging tension over the pace of the application approval process.

“We are so very close, but still so far away,” Littrell said. “At this time, they know the winners, so what are we waiting on? No one is going to withdraw their application. These businesses didn’t tie up millions of dollars to then just back out at the last minute.”

The commission’s executive director, Andrew Turnage, hasn’t responded to questions about the commission’s timeline, funding or staffing.

Edwards, who is unpaid as chair, said the commission will publish “intent to award information” at the next meeting, but did not indicate when that will be.

Georgia legalized low-THC oil and products for people with medical conditions in 2015, but didn’t create a legal framework for production until last year.

The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission voted Wednesday to finalize scores given to grower applications. Those scores will be used to award licenses, but the commission stopped short of awarding them.

Joshua Littrell, CEO of Veterans for Cannabis, said he’s eager for the commission to issue licenses.

Zane Bader, co-founder of the Georgia Cannabis Trade Association, has said applicants have voiced concerns about the process, and whether the agency has the staffing or ability to answer questions about complexities of the application requirements. Hundreds of questions have been submitted by businesses and published in a document on the commission’s website, many of them answered with the phrase: “The Applicant should determine its approach without an expectation for Commission guidance on business processes.”

The commission’s next step is to contact applicants “to find out interest or extensions or responses or withdrawals, as necessary,” Edwards said.

ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia regulator is getting closer to issuing licenses to grow medical marijuana, but isn’t quite there yet.

According to the commission’s annual report, Turnage is the only paid staff member.

Nearly 70 companies have applied for six licenses to be issued.

“Please do not blow up the phone of staff or anybody else, or commissioners,” said Commission Chairman Dr. Christopher Edwards. “Let them go home to their families.”

Former Republican state Rep. Allen Peake of Macon was a leading supporter of legalizing low THC oil when he was in the General Assembly. He has continued to work with what he characterized as an “underground network” to bring the oil from out of state to Georgia families. Importing the oil is illegal. He has applied for a processing license.

“As a trade association, one of the things we’re trying to do is make sure that the commission has the resources to adequately do their job, and all the businesses have an environment where they can actually thrive and excel,” Bader said. “I think that there are going to have to be changes to the way the program is set up to make that happen.”

“We’re two years from passing a bill that said you could grow, process and distribute medical cannabis oil in our state,” he said. “But we don’t have the licenses issued to folks to allow them to do that yet.”

The 2019 bill was a follow-up to legislation the General Assembly passed in 2015 that legalized possession of low-THC cannabis oil in Georgia by patients suffering from certain diseases enrolled in a registry overseen by the state Department of Public Health.

Lawmakers acted after it became apparent that the first law left Georgians with no legal way of obtaining cannabis oil even though they were allowed to possess the drug.

The process of developing the RFP has been “tedious,” Dr. Christopher Edwards, principal surgeon at the Atlanta Neurological & Spine Institute and the commission’s chairman, said Monday.

Although the law took effect in July 2019, the seven members of the commission given the task of overseeing the program weren’t appointed until last November.

“We just want to keep the patients in the forefront,” Edwards said. “The longer this process goes on, the longer it takes patients to get help.”

Starting the licensing process is a major step forward for a program that has been slow to get off the ground since the General Assembly passed legislation in April of last year legalizing the cultivation of marijuana in Georgia, conversion of the leaf into cannabis oil and the sale of the drug to eligible patients.

The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission voted Monday to release a Request for Proposals that will lead to the granting of two “Class 1” licenses and four “Class 2” licenses to grow marijuana indoors and manufacture the oil derived from the plants.

Under the medical cannabis legislation, businesses granted Class 1 licenses will be able to grow marijuana in up to 100,000 square feet of space. Class 2 licensees will be limited to no more than 50,000 square feet.

ATLANTA — The state panel in charge of Georgia’s medical marijuana program is opening the search for businesses interested in growing the leaf crop and converting it into cannabis oil.

The RFP is based on input from the state attorney general’s office and the Georgia Department of Administrative Services.

Patients eligible to receive cannabis oil with a doctor’s prescription include those suffering from a wide range of diseases, including seizure disorders and Parkinson’s.

Commission Executive Director Andrew Turnage, appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp last May, said the DOAS is expected to post the RFP on the Georgia Procurement Registry by Wednesday.

Mark Niesse: That’s right. And also, I think part of the reasoning for having six is you have a backup plan. If some of these companies don’t work out, the other companies would still be able to produce and also these companies will be able to get it going in a hurry. There was some thinking among legislators that if you limit the competition to just six companies, you’ll get some of these large companies that have experience and will be able to get a whole new industry up and running because they’ve done it in other states already. The legislation was crafted to try to attract companies that kind of know what they’re doing now. Whether or not that’s what we as citizens of Georgia will end up getting is another matter.

Mark Niesse: They believe it plays a role. You know, in Georgia, you’ll see it everywhere. We already have hemp and CBD stores selling it, selling product just to anybody off the street. And that product, CBD, does not have any THC component in it. It’s the THC that’s illegal, but it’s also the THC that has some of these health benefits for people. CBD oil also has some of the chemicals that are believed to help the CBD combined with the THC. That seems to make a difference for patients that actually do have real issues that need treatment.

Steve Fennessy: So with these protests, what does it mean for — for when the day will arrive? When someone who holds one of these medical marijuana cards can actually buy something in the state of Georgia?

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Steve Fennessy: And for the companies that are producing the oil, it’s — it’s obviously a business opportunity.

Steve Fennessy: Finally, though, Georgia has approved licenses for six companies to produce medical marijuana oil. But hold on: Many of the companies whose applications were rejected are claiming the process was unfair and the controversy could push back the day even further when cannabis oil will be sold here. To help make sense of all this, I’m joined by Mark Nisse, a reporter at the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Mark Niesse: Businesses don’t like disclosing their confidential information. And perhaps there was a thought that if businesses have to disclose less information, perhaps they’ll be more willing to come forward with the details of their business operations than if they would be if everything were to be made public, as it would in a normal state government procurement or licensing process. Of course, this information is not confidential from the Georgia Cannabis Board that evaluated these companies.

Mark Niesse: What’s most interesting to me is that you have a mix of companies that I’ve heard of and then new companies that were totally different or unknown, winning these licenses going into the process. I expected most of these licenses to go to the big multi-state companies, the companies that are well-established, that already operate in states like Florida or Colorado or New Jersey or Massachusetts or California. And there are a couple of those. But there’s also some companies that were only incorporated just last year in 2020 in Georgia.

Steve Fennessy: And did former Congressman Price talk to you?

Steve Fennessy: So, Mark, as we talk today, I understand that there are 36 states right now that allow for at least some use of marijuana or cannabis products for certain medical conditions. But I’m a little unclear. Is Georgia one of them or not?

Steve Fennessy: But of course, these 15 companies that are protesting the outcome, they don’t have access to to the reasons in the same way that you and I don’t have access. Right?

Mark Niesse: There are quite a few. I believe it’s more than a dozen. There’s the most common treatment is for severe seizures or epilepsy. And that’s where you hear from patients, especially children who weren’t able to function in a lot of ways because of epilepsy or seizures. And their parents would talk about how they would try going to hospitals, they would try different medicines, they would try different doctors. And they just didn’t have any success until they tried low-THC oil, which is what they call the brand of medical marijuana that’s allowed in Georgia.

Steve Fennessy: Sounds like a good question. What’s the answer?

Mark Niesse: Well, we’re counting Georgia as one of the 36, even though Georgia’s medical marijuana program isn’t quite up and running yet.

Steve Fennessy: And I understand that one of the companies has a board member, Allen Peake, who was a state representative who was very vocal for quite a while, and in advancing the medical marijuana cause, specifically in Georgia.

[TAPE WMGT 41NBC]: The wait is over. Gov. Nathan Deal signed the state’s medical marijuana bill into law today.

Steve Fennessy: What are some of the conditions that the cannabis oil specifically can address?

Mark Niesse: It’s hard to tell because we can’t see the application. We don’t know. It’s hard to compare the companies. It’s hard to know why one company was chosen over another because their applications are so heavily redacted. And so we’re just left with all these questions about did the best companies really win this license?

Steve Fennessy: Mark, is there anything you can tell us about any specific of these upstarts that kind of popped out to you?

Steve Fennessy: What’s his reaction been?

Steve Fennessy: For six years, Georgians with certain medical conditions have been permitted to take cannabis oil to ease their symptoms for some patients, especially those suffering epileptic seizures. The oil has been nothing short of miraculous. There’s just one problem: With nowhere in Georgia to actually buy the stuff, they’ve been forced across state lines to get it, meaning they run afoul of federal laws.

Mark Niesse: Well, sure. The best-known one of all of them is Trulieve, a Florida-based company that operates a lot of dispensaries and does big business in Florida and a few other states. So that one wasn’t too big of a surprise. You know, it’s a publicly traded company that everybody’s heard of. But then you saw some other companies. You know, the other Class One license for a 100,000-square-foot growing facility, went to a company called Botanical Sciences, which was a new company to me. I hadn’t heard about it previously, but we do know that it has a spinal and pain management doctor as its CEO. And we were also able to find out that on its board of directors, has former U.S. Representative Tom Price, who was also health secretary in the Trump administration,