ATLANTA – The state panel in charge of Georgia’s medical marijuana program is opening the search for businesses interested in growing the leaf crop and converting it into cannabis oil.

The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission voted Monday to release a Request for Proposals (RFP) that will lead to the granting of two “Class 1” licenses and four “Class 2” licenses to grow marijuana indoors and manufacture the oil derived from the plants.

The RFP is based on input from the state attorney general’s office and the Georgia Department of Administrative Services (DOAS).

Starting the licensing process is a major step forward for a program that has been slow to get off the ground since the General Assembly passed legislation in April of last year legalizing the cultivation of marijuana in Georgia, conversion of the leaf into cannabis oil and the sale of the drug to eligible patients.

Although the law took effect in July 2019, the seven members of the commission given the task of overseeing the program weren’t appointed until last November.

The process of developing the RFP has been “tedious,” Dr. Christopher Edwards, principal surgeon at the Atlanta Neurological & Spine Institute and the commission’s chairman, said Monday.

“We just want to keep the patients in the forefront,” Edwards said. “The longer this process goes on, the longer it takes patients to get help.”

Under the medical cannabis legislation, businesses granted Class 1 licenses will be able to grow marijuana in up to 100,000 square feet of space. Class 2 licensees will be limited to no more than 50,000 square feet.

The 2019 bill was a follow-up to legislation the General Assembly passed in 2015 that  legalized possession of low-THC cannabis oil in Georgia by patients suffering from certain diseases enrolled in a registry overseen by the state Department of Public Health.

Lawmakers acted after it became apparent that the first law left Georgians with no legal way of obtaining cannabis oil even though they were allowed to possess the drug.

Patients eligible to receive cannabis oil with a doctor’s prescription include those suffering from a wide range of diseases, including seizure disorders and Parkinson’s. 

Commission Executive Director Andrew Turnage, appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp last May, said the DOAS is expected to post the RFP on the Georgia Procurement Registry by Wednesday.