ATLANTA – The agency in charge of Georgia’s medical marijuana program voted unanimously Thursday to turn over responsibility for hearing protests of medical cannabis license awards to the Office of State Administrative Hearings (OSAH).

This story also appeared in Capitol Beat News Service

Giving that role to the OSAH was a key provision in legislation the General Assembly considered this year aimed at speeding up a licensing process that has kept the program from getting off the ground. The bill died during the last hour of this year’s legislative session when the Georgia Senate tabled it by one vote.

Gov. Brian Kemp responded to the bill’s failure after the session ended last month with an executive order earmarking $150,000 from the Governor’s Emergency Fund to expedite hearings for companies the Georgia Commission for Access to Medical Cannabis denied licenses to grow marijuana and convert the leafy crop to low-THC cannabis oil for sale to patients suffering from a range of diseases.

The resolution approved during a special called meeting Thursday will remove the responsibility of holding those hearings from the commission, which is made up of a board consisting of six part-time members and a chairman.

“I think it’s going to expedite the process,” said board Chairman Sid Johnson, who was appointed to the board by Kemp last month. “[The OSAH is] in a good position to look at these protests. They’ve got the resources.”

Legislative supporters of the bill lawmakers took up this year made similar arguments as the measure went through the General Assembly.

Efforts to launch a medical marijuana program date back to 2015, when the legislature passed a bill legalizing possession of low-THC cannabis oil. But the law didn’t provide a legal means of obtaining the drug until 2019, when lawmakers put in place a licensing process for companies interested in participating and created the commission to oversee the program.

After the commission issued tentative licenses to six companies last summer, losing bidders filed protests alleging the selection process was unfair and arbitrary. The claims threaten to tie up the program in lengthy litigation that would keep the drug away from patients suffering from seizure disorders, Parkinson’s disease, terminal cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, sickle-cell anemia and other diseases.

Johnson said Thursday that 16 companies have filed 22 protests.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Dave Williams/Capitol Beat

Dave Williams is bureau chief for Capitol Beat News Service, a service of the Georgia Press Education Foundation.