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Georgia Medical Cannabis Bill Dies in State Senate

A bill to repair Georgia’s failed medical cannabis program died in the state Senate this week as lawmakers failed to come to an agreement on a compromise proposal. It was approved by the Georgia House of Representatives. However, the bill was moved to the Georgia Senate via a vote of 28 votes to 27 on Monday.

“I’m really, really disappointed,” House Speaker David Ralston said after the bill died in the Senate.

In 2015, the Georgia state legislature passed the Haleigh’s Hope Act, a measure that allowed patients with certain medical conditions including seizure disorders and end-stage cancer to use cannabis oil containing no more than 5% THC. Patients were left without legal options to get their cannabis, as the law did not allow for the controlled production of and sale.

The bill that allowed medical cannabis cultivation, as well as the production and sale of cannabis oil was approved by legislators four years later. Ralston, Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, and Governor Brian Kemp all appointed seven members to a commission that would draft regulations and license cannabis producers.

Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission (GMCC), announced it was going to award six licenses to six applicants from a pool that had nearly 70. More than 12 unsuccessful applicants protested the selections. One applicant, Georgia Atlas, filed a lawsuit characterizing the selection process as “lacking in transparency, objectivity and fairness.” The legal action stopped the licensing process in its tracks, leaving Georgia’s 20,000 registered medical pot patients still without access to legal cannabis oil.

“We’ve been trying to get this done here in Georgia for about seven or eight years now, and it’s still not done,”  Ralston said.

Last month, the House and Senate approved separate bills to address the shortcomings and get Georgia’s medical cannabis program up and running. The compromise proposal was drafted by a legislative conference committee, but it failed to receive approval from the Senate. The compromise bill would have required a state agency to review all protests and original applications before it could award six medical cannabis licences. It would have also allowed regulators to issue three more licenses to producers of medical cannabis. Tuesday night’s House of Representatives vote on the compromise measure was 95 to73.

“We’ve finally come up with a plan that is fair to all concerned,” said House Majority Leader Jon Burns after the bill’s approval. “This addresses a need, a desperate need for the citizens of our state to utilize this product that makes a huge difference in the health of the people of this state.”

Gloria Butler, Minority Leader of the Senate, moved to place the bill on the table. This motion was passed, and the bill could not be voted on.

The Lawmakers fail, the patients lose

Georgia’s state legislature failed to develop legislation that would allow for the development of a functioning medical marijuana program. This means patients will be left without medication. The situation was described as shameful by Ben Watson, a state representative.

“We’ve been working on this for 10 years. We have not gotten this oil to children that they deserve,” Watson said. “That is what the children of the state of Georgia and all those registrants deserve — getting that oil to them.”

Dale Jackson was the father of a patient who uses medical cannabis and was a co-applicant. He was dissatisfied at the inability of legislators to find a solution.

“The state of Georgia had three years and accomplished nothing,” said Jackson.

“It’s an abomination to the families of Georgia how messed up this commission is, and how leadership has failed the families of Georgia,” he added.

Cannabis advocates including Jackson were also critical of the medical cannabis commission’s lack of transparency in awarding the licenses. The state law required that information on the winning bids, which included thousands of pages, be kept secret from the general public. The scoring of the winning bids by the commission’s politically appointed members was also kept secret.

“The way in which this new agency was rolled out. It was so shocking. It was horrible,” said Jackson.

After the bill was tabled in the Senate, Ralston said the move was a disappointment for the state’s medical cannabis patients.

“I’m at a loss on that,” Ralston told reporters. “How long are these people going to have to wait? I’m really, really disappointed. We worked, we couldn’t get the Senate to engage very much on the conference committee. Although we believed that they had engaged them, the Senate returned with a report from conference committee. They put it on and people get beat up about it. We gave everything we could. I want Georgia’s families to know this. The blame is over there, as far as I’m concerned.”