Roughly 20,000 patients enrolled in Georgia’s medical cannabis program will have to continue to wait for access to low-THC oil after lawmakers failed to pass legislation to revive the state’s stalled business licensing process.
A compromise bill that would have reopened the application process to license three more facilities failed to clear the Senate April 4, according to the Georgia Recorder.
Since 2015, Georgia’s registered patients can legally possess cannabis oil containing a maximum of 5% THC, but they have no way to legally purchase the oil, which has yet to be produced and sold in the state.
Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation in 2019 to establish a regulated system for the production, processing, and sale of medical cannabis oil, and the newly created Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission licensed six companies last year to serve the market.
Sixteen unsuccessful applicants then challenged the licensing process, which has since stalled the rollout of the program.
Lawmakers tried during this year’s session to offer up a legislative solution, and the House and Senate passed two different proposals last month to revive the program.
The measure approved by the House, House Bill 1425, would have restarted Georgia’s medical cannabis licensing process, throwing out the six licenses that were tentatively awarded last year.
The proposal approved by the Senate, Senate Bill 609, would have given the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission a May 31 deadline to license six companies that had previously applied for licenses, but not necessarily the six companies that were tentatively awarded licenses last year.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee ultimately voted March 22 to advance the Senate’s measure, and a conference committee made up of members of the two legislative chambers then formed the compromise proposal to reopen the application process to license three more companies in addition to the original six that were granted preliminary approval, according to the Georgia Recorder.
The compromise deal would have allowed the 63 companies that originally applied but were not approved for licenses to potentially secure one of the additional three licenses, and they would be exempt from paying the application fee again, as long as they withdrew from protests or lawsuits challenging the licensing process, the news outlet reported.
The Georgia House passed the measure in a 95-73 vote on Monday night, according to the Georgia Recorder.
Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, then moved to table the legislation, blocking it from receiving a full floor vote, the news outlet reported. Butler’s motion narrowly passed in a 28-27 vote.
“We’ve been working on this for 10 years, [and] we have not gotten this oil to the children that they deserve,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, said, according to the Georgia Recorder. “That is what the children of the state of Georgia and all those registrants deserve, getting that oil to them.”
“I’m at a loss on that,” House Speaker David Ralston told reporters, according to the news outlet. “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. We thought we had them engaged, they came back with a conference committee report, and they put it up and it gets beat. I hope the families of Georgia know that we gave it our best shot. The blame is over there, as far as I’m concerned."