Secrecy in Georgia’s medical cannabis regulation frustrates efforts to deliver relief to patients

For months, rival companies that want to produce low-THC cannabis oil for medical purposes in Georgia have not been able to pry open the black box of the state’s 2019 Hope Act to see how six firms—out of 69 bidders—were awarded licenses to dispense the cannabis extract to patients across the state. The state’s Open Records Act is so far proving no match for the Hope Act, either. Legislators trying to pry open the process have also been rebuffed.

Georgia state Rep. Alan Powell, a Hartwell Republican, has scalded the Hope Act as inefficient and poorly written. This month Powell introduced House Bill 196, which he says will make the workings of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission more subject to oversight, more efficient, and subject to the state’s Open Records Act provisions, but still protect trade secrets of companies bidding for the lucrative licenses.

“I think it will do all those things,” Powell said. “The Administrative Procedures Act is a set of rules that are standard for state government oversight and for openness. And if they (the commission) are part of that, then they have to adhere to those rules. That’s a state law. They can’t be behind closed doors. They have to be open to the public.”

The closed-door state regulation of medical cannabis raises questions. Did high-profile lobbyists come before the commission on behalf of one of the bidding companies? Was there a conflict of interest among those winning the business and politically-appointed commissioners? Was the scoring of the 69 companies influenced by a backroom deal?

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