by Dale Russell
Aired February 21, 2022
A stunning development in Georgia’s controversial medical marijuana program. State Representative Alan Powell has introduced a mid-session bill that would dramatically alter the medical marijuana landscape in Georgia.
His bill would more than triple the number of companies selling medicinal marijuana and no longer allow the State Medical Cannabis Commission to operate in secret.
“In 32 years I’ve never had to deal with a fix like this,” Powell told I-Team reporter Dale Russell
Powell says by more than tripling the number of medical marijuana operators, he hopes to jumpstart what he calls a tangled mess and get cannabis oil into hands of patients.
The 16 losing bidders who have filed a formal protest will be added to the six companies already awarded a license.
(Fair to say this bill in your mind, hopefully guts the protest process?)
“That’s what it does. There is a judicial fix and a legislative fix, this is a legislative fix,” said Powell. For five months the I-Team has investigated the awarding of medical marijuana licenses in Georgia.
We started with a Florida company called Trulieve. The company’s CEO Kim Rivers is married to a man recently convicted of public corruption charges in Florida.
Truleive, one of Georgia’s winning bidders, told us JT Burnette had no role with Truelieve Ga.
Then there was Jigar Patel of Nature’s GA, also a winning bidder. Patel was once a business associate with a man in Massachusetts who admitted in court to bribing a Massachusetts Mayor to win his medical marijuana license.
Nature’s GA wrote to say it was irrelevant “because the company separated ties with that individual long before our Georgia application was submitted.”
And, finally, we found Michael Mayes who offered advice to the commission, sent in license application instructions, and volunteered to be a consultant for free. He promised he wouldn’t bid.
The commission never used him as a consultant. But, Michael Mayes ended up as one of the winning bidders. Critics saw a possible conflict.
“It looks real bad when you don’t put that out front,” said Jerome Lee an attorney for one of the losing bidders.
We also reported how 1000’s of pages of winning bids, by law, were redacted and kept secret from losing bidders, the public, and the media.
The scoring of those winning bids – by politically appointed commissioners – was also kept secret. Finally, when the I-Team tried to attend bid protest zoom hearings – more secrets. The Commission wouldn’t let us in.
Legislators were also kept in the dark. At a recent oversite committee meeting, Andrew Turnage, Executive Director at Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, repeatedly told lawmakers the law prevented him from sharing even basic information.
Alan Powell’s new bill, backed by multiple co-sponsors, would shine a bright light on the current darkness shrouding the bid process. The bill would make most all of the State Medical Cannabis Commission’s work product subject to the Georgia Open Records Act.
‘Everybody’s got a right to see what goes on and to see the process, including legislators,” Powell told us.
And, finally Powell’s bill will set up a scoring system to be done by impartial third party consultants if the commission ever needs to license a new company to grow and sell medical marijuana.
Currently, politically appointed commissioners picked the winners.
(Who wins with this bill, if it passes?)
”The winners would be those people who need cannabis oil for the treatments of their disease,” said Powell.
We talked to several losing bidders who told us they are cautiously optimistic about the passing of the bill. But, some said they are still unhappy with the initial bid process that they believe was too secretive and too political.
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