Is Georgia about to restart its medical marijuana program?

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Georgia lawmakers may be about to start over the state’s long-delayed medical marijuana program.

A state House committee approved legislation Monday that would cancel the current program and authorize a new request for proposals (RFP) from companies interested in growing marijuana in Georgia and converting the leafy crop into low-THC oil for eligible patients.

Also Monday, the Georgia Senate Regulated Industries Committee approved a bill aimed at moving the current program forward by restarting the evaluation of companies that already have bid for state licenses.

The General Assembly legalized possession of cannabis oil in 2015 but gave Georgians no way to obtain the drug. In 2019, lawmakers created a state commission to oversee the growth of marijuana and the production and sale of cannabis oil.

The commission awarded licenses to six companies last July. But companies whose bids were denied complained about the licensing process and filed legal protests that have kept the program from getting off the ground.

“We’ve got patients we’ve been trying to get [cannabis] oil to for at least four years,” Rep. Bill Werkhiser, R-Glennville, the House bill’s chief sponsor, told members of the House Judiciary Committee.

Under House Bill 1425, the state Department of Administrative Services would oversee the RFP in partnership with an independent third party. Licenses evaluated during the RFP process would have to be issued by the end of December.

The bill also would expand the number of licenses by two for every increase of 50,000 patients on the state registry to receive cannabis oil. There are currently about 20,000 Georgians on the registry, which includes patients suffering from a variety of diseases.

The bill could reach the House floor for a vote as early as Tuesday, the Crossover Day deadline for bills to pass at least one legislative chamber to remain alive this year.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 609 also is due for a floor vote on Tuesday. The Senate legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, contains the same provision for expanding the number of licenses as more Georgians are added to the cannabis oil registry.

However, rather than put out a new RFP, the Senate bill would instruct the commission to review the licenses that already have been awarded and the protests that have been filed, then issue six licenses to the “highest qualified applicants.” The commission would be given a deadline of July 1.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.