New lawsuit filed asking court to open secret medical cannabis regulations in Georgia

Some of the approximately 27,000 Georgia patients enrolled in the state’s THC oil registry were finally able to purchase their first legal dose in late April, when Trulieve, one of the companies licensed to manufacture and sell the drug, opened stores in Marietta and Macon opened .

Trulieve plans to open a third location in Pooler, near Savannah, and another company, Botanical Sciences LLC, plans to open stores in Pooler and Marietta. But while the stores’ products may bring relief to patients suffering from serious illnesses like cancer and seizures, they won’t bring relief to those affected by the harsh vibrations of the controversial approval process.

As court battles over licenses continue, an open government group announced Friday that it is asking the state Supreme Court to overturn lower court decisions and release court filings from the tense licensing process.

“Georgia’s new licensing process for the distribution of medicinal cannabis has been heavily criticized with massive allegations of corruption surrounding the process and procedure and other serious allegations regarding the fitness, skills and qualifications of successful bidders to produce this healthcare product. said the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s April 30 filing. “The damage the public will suffer from the continued practice of secret litigation will no doubt be exponential.”

State legislation legalized low-THC medicinal cannabis oil for patients with multiple serious medical conditions in 2015, but the law did not provide a way for patients to legally obtain the drug. Four years later, the legislature passed legislation that provided a process for six companies to grow the plants and produce the oil, which must contain only a small amount of THC, the compound that gets marijuana users high.

This process did not go as smoothly as the elected officials intended. Some of the companies that submitted unsuccessful bids for licenses say they were not treated fairly, and court cases are ongoing over four other licenses for facilities smaller than Trulieve and Botanical Sciences.

The foundation says it’s hard to know how accurate these companies’ claims are because the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission has operated in camera.

In June 2022, a judge in the Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings sealed all litigation-related records from the disputes. A Fulton County Superior Court judge upheld that ruling in February, and in April the Georgia Court of Appeals dismissed a discretionary appeal by the foundation.

In its filing, the foundation called the lower courts’ decisions “wildly inconsistent” with Georgia Supreme Court precedent supporting citizens’ right to see court records, and said the lower courts’ decisions “threatening reputations.” and the integrity of the judicial process, by creating a rule that administrative courts are exempt from transparency even when deciding the healthcare rights of millions of Georgians, and by further stating that no member of the public can challenge that rule.”

Hartwell Republican state assemblyman Alan Powell, a supporter of the low-THC program, said the commission was also unavailable to lawmakers.

“One of the problems I had was at the hearings that we had in 1922, where we called the Executive Director, he refused to answer any questions to a House Standing Committee,” Powell said. “And we kept asking ourselves, what was taking so long, why did it take so long to get approval and licenses for these operations? And he refused to answer the questions and his comment was that under the legislation that was passed they were prohibited from answering any questions.”

Powell filed House Bill 196 this year that would have subjected the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission to state open assembly and open record laws. The bill passed the House and Senate in different forms, but the two chambers failed to reach an agreement by the end of March’s session.

“This should set a good example for all legislators, present and future, that every time legislation is passed, a specification is required that those records are available to the public and legislators because that’s the only way to ensure.” that things will be done right,” he said.

Selling brisk first week

Visitors to Trulieve’s Marietta site last week entered a sleek front office and waiting room, where a staff member greeted them and asked for their doctor-issued medical card before directing them through a door into a sales room filled with small boxes of products containing low THC content were showcases made of glass.

A display of medicinal cannabis products at Trulieve’s Marietta store. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

The number of patients in the registry increased slightly as the first stores opened, from 26,590 on April 20 to 26,887 on Wednesday.

Andrew Turnage, executive director of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, told WABE News that the number is expected to rise to 100,000.

General manager Holly Chapman said she has helped customers who have traveled up to an hour and a half to get the drug, but the feeling most shoppers express is happiness at finally being able to get their drug without going any further to travel or to evade the law.

“Everyone comes in very excited,” she said. “Everyone is just happy that we are here. We’re also happy to help. We have found that all of our patients who come are just happy.”

Powell said he’s also glad patients finally had access to their medications, but he’d be a lot happier if the process had been more open and more locations were available in other parts of the state.

“I think the competition is good,” he said. “I believe in the free market and free enterprise. And what you have is you have two companies that have this monopoly and it depends on the court process, but I don’t know if the courts are going to settle that now. The people who have filed lawsuits because they felt they had been wronged by the process of the Cannabis Commission licensing this clandestine operation had the right to file a lawsuit and depending on how the courts came across one of these various Deciding steps By the way, this could be solved in two months, it could be solved in six months, it could be solved in twelve months.”