The state medical marijuana commission announced earlier this month that close to 70 businesses have applied for licenses to produce low-THC cannabis oil for medical use in Georgia, but patients will still have a long wait for medicine.

The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission launched the license application process last November. The commission is charged with establishing the infrastructure needed to supply the state’s registered patients with medical cannabis.

But state Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, the Georgia legislator instrumental in passing the legislation to provide medicinal cannabis, says the process to get medicine to patients has already taken “far too long.”

The commission plans to announce contract awards at the end of the review process, likely in late spring or early summer. Companies can then begin to construct facilities and begin production, a process that may take yet another six to eight months that patients won’t have access to medicine.

The number of registered patients waiting to receive the oil was rising as the committee began seeking licensees in 2019, but then that number leveled off as the bureaucratic process seemingly slowed to a crawl.

Gravley, contacted by phone, said he is currently working on a clean-up bill to be filed within the next week aimed at streamlining the remaining process required to get THC-oil into the hands of patients and make sure that the types of delays that have happened over the last two years cease.

Gravley, who also sponsored the original legislation that allowed for medicinal THC in Georgia, said he’s spoken with people who say their doctor will not register them to obtain the still unavailable oil. And while reports of the number of registered patients has varied, it hasn’t risen much since 2019.

“Here’s the thing. It’s been two years since this thing passed. There are a lot of frustrated patients, a lot of people in the state who are saying ‘why should I get on the registry when there’s no oil that I can legally buy in the state of Georgia?’ ” Gravley said.

The companies are seeking either Class 1 or Class 2 licenses. Under legislation the General Assembly passed in 2019, Class 1 licenses will let the recipient grow marijuana indoors in up to 100,000 square feet of space.

Class 2 licenses will authorize recipients to grow an indoor crop occupying up to 50,000 square feet.

With this done it adds more than a year to a process that overall will come close to spanning a decade, Gravley noted.

“It’s been three years since the original bill was passed for the oil to be available to Georgia patients. In my view, that’s failure,” Gravley said and added, “...we worked for five years to get the law; it shouldn’t have taken three years before patients were able to access oil in this state.”

The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission came into being in 2019 when Gov. Brian Kemp signed Georgia’s Hope Act into law, the bill that allowed for distribution of medical THC to registered patients and caregivers to purchase the medicine from licensed pharmacies.

Members of the commission were appointed by Gov. Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston and includes medical professionals, professors, business owners and law enforcement.

The job of its seven members is to consider and approve applications for companies to grow and sell medical marijuana in Georgia. The commission has the authority to approve up to six private growers to cultivate medical cannabis.

About 14,000 medical marijuana patients were registered in Georgia by the end of 2019, and have since then been awaiting the culmination of this process.

The list of diseases that qualify patients for cannabis oil under the legislation include cancer, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, mitochondrial disease and sickle-cell anemia.

Gravley said that out of the statewide stats for those with one or more treatable conditions under the law, District 67 could have hundreds, if not thousands, who may suffer from a condition(s) on the eligibility list.

The commission also recently announced it put an emphasis on attracting applications from businesses owned by minorities, women and/or veterans.

“Today is a great day for patients who need access to low-THC oil, and economic development for minority-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses,” said Andrew Turnage, the commission’s executive director.

But Gravley said he doesn’t care who the approved licensees are as long as they meet the established criteria and can get on with the business of providing the oil.

“I think we all need to be thinking in an expedited mindset of how we go about choosing the best licensees for the state of Georgia. But the top priority and most important aspect is making sure that the licensees that are chosen are reputable companies that have a history of making this oil in another state and have a solid, medicinally-based pharmaceutical-type product, that is safe for our Georgia patients and will be readily accessible and ready to go in 12 months from the issue date of the license,” Gravely said.

Gravley has said all along that he’d like to see the infrastructure established ASAP to start getting medicine to patients who need it.

“I’m available for help or advice; I’m available in any way, form, or fashion to help speed this process along in any way that I can; I’m happy to help,” Gravley said.

Once the manufacturing licenses have been awarded, the commission will develop rules and regulations for granting licenses to dispensaries that will distribute the low-THC oil to patients.

Patients and other members of the public would be able to keep track of the program’s progress and sign up for notifications by visiting the commission’s website at www.gmcc.ga.gov.