Bumps in Georgia Medical Marijuana Licensing
Georgia has traditionally favored a tight squeeze on marijuana, which has yielded some pretty consistent results for the Peach State.
As opposed to allowing access to all medical marijuana products for qualifying patients, Georgia chose to only legalize a single niche medical product, low-THC oil in 2015.
The state chose to approve only 6 out of 69 applications in their licensing process, awarding companies with members like former Congressman Tom Price (-R), a staunch anti-marijuana prohibitionist, and billion-dollar Florida based company Trulieve, which operates 90 stores nationwide.
With the state approving 6 licenses for cultivators, Georgians are seeing more of the familiar setbacks, delays, and suspicious ongoings out of the state’s marijuana commission and their shaky application process for cultivation licenses.
However, cultivators are expected to be operational within the next year, which means that patients should be shopping at dispensaries soon after that.
In this article, we’ll give you the rundown on the Georgia medical marijuana program, how it’s looking from the outside in, and when you can expect to get legal access to the natural relief you’ve been waiting for.
Georgia Medical Marijuana – State Prefers Slow & Restrictive Approach
Georgia passed its medical marijuana bill in 2015, a move that most expected would slowly start to pave the way for a broader and more comprehensive MMJ program in the future.
While many have been disappointed in the limitations of Georgia's try at medical marijuana, things are at least moving forward, and while it has taken the state 6 years to make moves in the industry, in 2021 things are starting to pick up the pace.
In 2021 alone, Georgia expanded its list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, created and started the application process for cultivators, and even approved 6 cultivators for licenses to produce low-THC cannabis oil.
But while the state seems to be catching up for lost time, some are concerned about how well the state is handling the MMJ program, and if their policies are patient-centered, or more of the same political red tape from the kind of questionable characters that the industry is notorious for attracting.
The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission (GMCC) has been consistent in its approach to cannabis in Georgia: Keep it limited and keep it restrictive.
Their website FAQ page explains this perfectly under the section titled
“How does Georgia’s medical cannabis law compare to other states?”:
“A: Georgia’s law is much more limited than some other states. For example, it does not legalize the growing, sale, or possession of marijuana in plant or leaf form. It does not authorize the production, sale, or ingestion of food products infused with low THC oil, or the inhalation of low THC oil through smoking, electronic vaping, or vapor. It does not authorize physicians to prescribe marijuana for medical use. It is intended solely to protect persons with an active Low-THC Oil Registry Card from criminal prosecution for possessing less than 20 ounces of low THC oil for medicinal purposes.”
Since 2015, Georgia has been hyper focused on what isn’t allowed, what can’t be done, and what won’t happen, far more than the alternatives. What is allowed, what can be done, and what will happen, are seemingly not major priorities for the commission.
This is probably at the root of why medical marijuana patients who have registered with the state are still waiting 6 years later for a single product to become available for purchase, a move that really shouldn’t take longer than 1-2 years to implement, as we’ve seen in other states.
And it’s probably not a far stretch to say the state hasn’t been overtly interested in facts, research, or expanding access to medical marijuana medication for chronically and terminally ill patients.
Former Rep. Allen Peake (-R) fought to get medical marijuana in Georgia and tried to expand the state’s medical marijuana access by investigating what other state programs were doing. He also tried to expand the state’s list of qualifying patients in his career as a House Representative, and has tried multiple times to get personal cultivation in Georgia’s medical marijuana bill.
In emails released between Rep. Peake and Governor Deal’s office in 2015 - 2016, the priorities of the state became very clear, ultimately leading to Rep. Peake paying out of pocket for research on other state programs, and finding himself on the sharp edge of Governor Deal’s apparent distaste for medical marijuana:
“Allen, let me be a little more direct than my last email,” wrote Riley, the chief of staff: “There is no appetite to move any legislation, sign any legislation, or even gather additional information to write legislation on this issue. If you feel the need to continue to pursue this, I am going to need to you to step down as floor leader because I don’t want you to be embarrassed when the Governor states this in a public setting and your [sic] left holding the bag.”
Rep. Peake continued to pursue expanding access to medical marijuana for qualifying patients in Georgia, and even personally provided low-THC oil to hundreds of Georgia residents without a way to legally obtain it.
The state has continued with its bizarre obsession in limiting its medical marijuana program with the proposed “equity based” system for their cultivation licenses, with only a quarter of a million dollars required to play the game.
Georgia MMJ Priorities – Money & Compliance
While the drudge of bureaucracy and political seediness is fresh, Georgia takes it a step further with their license processing.
After reviewing many of the questions submitted by cultivator applicants, it’s clear that the state is very much prepared to start accepting application fees, but it isn’t at all prepared to handle many of the actual concerns of the industry or regulation.
Although the site’s “Commission Rules” page is empty other than the statements that when something happens they’ll post it there, the FAQ page for applicants is full of excellent questions and often insignificant and dismissive answers.
Frequently they give answers to applicant questions like:
Q: “I would like to speak to someone. I’ve looked at the application process and the fees and I have some questions.”
A: “Due to the volume of communications received by GMCC and the need to provide access to consistent information to all applicants in a timely manner, GMCC is unable to communicate material information via phone.”
Q: “If awarded a license in what ways are companies legally permitted to source genetics?”
A: “The applicant should determine whether its genetic sourcing, use of non-native species, or use of clones is compliant with the Contract, applicable law, rules, and regulations without expectation of legal guidance from the Commission.”
Q: “Is the Commission planning to release draft regulations, propose regulations, or adopt regulations prior to the application deadline set for December 28, 2020?”
A: “The Commission does not have any Proposed Rules Hearings currently scheduled. As a condition of the license award contract, the applicant acknowledges that compliance with laws and regulations is required.”
Considering that the regulatory agency is not particularly concerned with regulation, you might at least expect to see a fair and equitable entry process into the Georgia medical marijuana industry, and if you did, you’d probably be wrong.
The commission site boldly states: “Fees collected by the Commission are statutory, and cannot be waived or refunded”
And the fees are astronomical compared to many other states.
Most states are relatively accessible in licensing fees, frequently totaling somewhere between $10,000 and $50,000, while Georgia joins the small handful of states with tremendously high, non-refundable fees:
Class 1 Production License (up to 100,000 sq ft cultivation space)
$25,000 – Application Fee
$200,000 – License Fee
$100,000 – Annual Renewal Fee
Class 2 Production License (up to 50,000 sq ft cultivation space)
$5,000 – Application Fee
$100,000 – License Fee
$50,000 – Annual Renewal Fee
Georgia hasn’t released the dispensary license fees yet, but it might be safe to assume that they will be just as ridiculous as paying $25,000 to submit an application that has less than a 9% chance of getting approved in their application process (based on the 69 applicants and 6 awarded licenses.)
Georgia MMJ Lottery - How an Anti-Marijuana Prohibitionist Pays $325,000 to Become a Marijuana Cultivator
Finally, after awarding 6 licenses, the state should be moving forward in its production of the low-THC oil product patients have been waiting so long for.
Unfortunately in this case, moving forward means dealing with the trove of complaints filed against the state by applicants who were denied licenses by the commission, not to mention the public disapproval of how the commission is handling the licensing process.
While the commission has found itself in a controversial position, the winners of the licensing lottery are celebrating, and not everyone is happy about that either.
Botanical Sciences, LLC was awarded a license from the commission.
Formed in 2020, Botanical Science’s sitting CEO is Atlanta-based Dr. Robin Fowler, who is joined by board members such as former Rep. Tom Price, a republican anti-marijuana campaigner, who served as a congressman for 12 years before briefly serving as President Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Rep. Price later resigned from the position shortly after a scandal surfaced, revealing he spent over a million dollars of taxpayer money on private flights in military aircraft, while staff members of the secretary’s delegation took commercial flights.
Rep. Price has been a staunch anti-marijuana prohibitionist his entire career, the congressman voted 6 times against appropriations bill amendments that would protect state medical marijuana programs from the Department of Justice interfering with their financing.
Rep. Price also voted 3 times against allowing VA doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for Veterans, despite the fact that he has not served in the Military.
He also voted against HR 2578, a bill that included amendments that prohibited the federal government from interfering or harassing states with legal medical marijuana programs.
Why Georgia’s Medical Marijuana Commission is Facing Backlash
Allowing one of the most critically biased men who has publicly tried to restrict medical marijuana policy on a federal level to sit on the board of a medical marijuana cultivation facility, is bizarre.
And the bizarreness of Rep. Price continues further.
Although himself a career anti-marijuana activist, his wife, Dr. Betty Price voted to reschedule cannabis as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, but strangely she reportedly voted against almost all of Georgia’s medical marijuana centered bills or amendments in her term.
She was even quoted recently in 2017 making statements such as:
"I'm not aware of any studies that show efficacy of marijuana in any of the conditions that we have approved it for in Georgia,"
As well as (concerning the Georgia medical marijuana program):
[…that she is] "not in support of our current Georgia law or anything that's coming down the pike."
And while former Rep. Tom Price has not shown any support for medical marijuana whatsoever, he has also never shown any medical-based competence or knowledge of medical marijuana research in his career. He and his wife did at least enjoy their private escorts on military jets, however, he doesn’t approve of medical marijuana for Veterans, of course.
In other words, while former Rep. Price would prefer the United States Military serve him in the capacity of a chauffeur, when it comes to the possibility of Veterans treating PTSD with cannabis, it’s a pass from the sitting board member of Georgia’s latest approved cultivator.
And although applicants like Rep. Allen Peake didn’t make the cut, the list of approved cultivators includes some other interesting players in the cannabis game, including Trulieve, a billion-dollar Florida based company with plans to operate in multiple states.
A bit of a far cry from the “equity based” application process, favoring big business over smaller applicants has its benefits.
Excluding the high fees imposed by the commission, larger scale operations would likely be able to get up and running faster and more efficiently than smaller operations. That’s an important key to the system because the commission’s application process requires cultivators to be operational within one year of their approval.
A tight squeeze, with huge barriers to entry, nonrefundable fees, and tight control over when things can be done, Georgia’s marijuana commission is facing a mountain of confusing administrative and political sludge in trying to legally produce just one single product, while many states have provided legal access to a variety of medical marijuana products much faster, more profitably, and much more efficiently.
The Bright Side of Georgia’s Fight for Medical Marijuana
While it might be easy to get caught up in the negative appearance that the Georgia medical marijuana commission is fumbling, there are some positives in the program.
On the bright side, the commission, applicants, and the public, are all aware of the proceedings by the commission, and awareness can help keep the seediness out of the business, transparency is important.
Cultivators have been approved for licenses, which means that there will be low-THC oil available for medical marijuana patients with qualifying conditions soon.
The commission website has posted that the fees for dispensary licenses are to be determined, so we will likely see dispensary licenses submitted, reviewed, and approved soon.
There are reportedly around 15,000 people registered as medical marijuana patients in Georgia, so the state is not having too many hang-ups in processing patient applications.
So while the state is seeing some significant bumps in the road on the business side of the marijuana conversation, for patients it’s looking a little brighter.
If the state can manage to move a little farther away from exclusivity and restrictive access, Georgians could see a plentiful medical marijuana program in the state that’s centered around patient access and compassionate care.
Get Your Georgia Marijuana Card
As a Georgia marijuana patient, you can legally purchase up to 20 ounces of low THC cannabis oil. For Georgians, this means getting the relief you need naturally and organically, and Georgia Marijuana Card is here to help.
Reserve your appointment today and get $25 off when we start processing applications!
Feel free to give us a call at (866) 781-5606, and we can help answer your questions about getting medical marijuana in Georgia