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Protests Flare in Georgia After Cultivation Licenses Are Awarded

August 25, 2021 08:00 am ET
Protests Flare in Georgia After Cultivation Licenses Are Awarded

Georgia has overcome a major hurdle in the medical cannabis industry. The state recently awarded cultivation licenses to six growers, all of whom are expected to launch their businesses in the next few months. However, rejected applicants, medical marijuana advocates and patients are voicing their concerns over the controversial decision-making process. 

It was during a public hearing on Saturday, July 24, 2021, that the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission (GMCC) awarded two Class 1 licenses and four Class 2 licenses to produce low-THC medical cannabis oil. In total, 69 applicants competed to win a license. The commission was appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, and House Speaker David Ralston.

Florida-based Trulieve GA Inc. and Botanical Sciences LLC are the two Class 1 winners. Class 1 permits allow growers to cultivate the plant over 100,000 square feet of space. Georgia-based Botanical Sciences recently hit news headlines when it was revealed that former anti-cannabis congressman Tom Price had joined the company’s board. 

The four Class 2 winners, all of which also operate from Georgia, are FFD GA Holdings, TheraTrue Georgia, Natures GA, and Treevana Remedy. Class 2 licenses allow growers to cultivate the plant over 50,000 square feet of space.

Each new license holder will be given the chance to open five dispensaries. Plus, the businesses will be legally allowed to sell, cultivate, and manufacture medical cannabis oil, so long as it doesn’t contain more than 5% of the mind-altering cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)

THC is the primary psychoactive compound contained in cannabis. Due to its mind-altering effects, it is renowned for making consumers feel relaxed and euphoric. Studies suggest that low-dose THC may also relieve stress.

Some of the unlucky companies that fell flat against the winning applicants included Columbia Care, Curaleaf, Parallel, and Verano Holdings.

21 Companies File Protests Following Rejection 

The GMCC’s decision to award six cultivation licenses has sparked debate among advocates and patients alike. Mainly, the arguments center around the fact that licensed recipients could be unqualified in comparison with some of the rejected applicants. The selection process has been described as “secretive” by industry insiders.

Much of the information contained in heavily redacted applications was blacked out, leaving many people to wonder exactly why certain applicants were approved and others dismissed. Protests have since been filed by 21 of the 69 companies that applied for Georgia’s cultivation licenses. Meanwhile, the husband of Trulieve’s CEO Kim Rivers has been tied to a public corruption case in Florida

Due to the nature of the protests, the state’s 20,000 registered medical marijuana patients are becoming increasingly concerned that they will be forced to wait even longer to obtain cannabis-based medicines. The largest cannabis company on the planet, Curaleaf, is one of the rejected applicants that sent a protest letter to the commission.

“The Cannabis Commission abdicated this responsibility and made decisions that lacked transparency, lacked rationality and unreasonably favored certain applicants over others,” reads an excerpt from a letter written by Curaleaf.

Company officials claim that the GMCC had a responsibility to execute an unbiased and open process. However, Curaleaf attests that licenses were awarded based on inconsistent criteria.

About Georgia’s Medical Cannabis Law

The Haleigh’s Hope Act, otherwise known as Georgia’s HB 1, was signed into effect by Governor Nathan Deal in April 2015. Individuals with qualifying medical conditions have since been able to register as patients with the Low THC Oil Registry and obtain cannabis oil containing no more than 5% of the psychoactive compound THC by weight.

Although Georgia’s medical marijuana bill made it legal to possess low-THC oil, no provisions were put into place for in-state sales to take place. However, patient access to low-THC oil was expanded on May 9, 2018, when Deal inked his signature on SB 16. Once the bill was effectuated in July 2018, more qualifying conditions were added to the list of criteria for eligible patients.

Today, qualifying conditions in Georgia include cancer, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, autism spectrum disorder, PTSD, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, sickle cell disease, Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS, peripheral neuropathy, intractable pain, Tourette’s syndrome and more. 

Sometime later, in July 2019, Georgia’s Hope Act (HB 324), became effective. This law established the framework for in-state cannabis cultivation, dispensing, and production with oversight from the GMCC. The updated law also stipulated that registered patients could possess a maximum of 20 fluid ounces of cannabis oil.

Based on the legal framework of Georgia’s medical cannabis law, most information remains private and off-the-record; the same cannot be said for competitive bids pertaining to other types of government contracts. The commission maintains that the scoresheets for each competing company – most of which kept their business information concealed from the public – are confidential. The protests are still pending.

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Bethan Rose Jenkins
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