FILE - medical cannabis

In this July 12, 2018, file photo, head grower Mark Vlachos tends to cannabis plants at Sira Naturals medical marijuana cultivation facility in Milford, Mass.

(The Center Square) – The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission will pick six companies to start producing the plant for medical uses in the state.

Nearly 70 companies applied for licenses to grow marijuana and convert it to oil to treat various illnesses. Once the commission approves them, the companies could be looking at paying up to $200,000 in licensing fees to the state. They will have one year to get product to thousands of Georgians who have been waiting for more than five years.

Patients with a Low THC Oil Registry card legally can purchase up to 20 fluid ounces of the THC oil from licensed dispensaries or pharmacies under legislation signed into law by former Gov. Nathan Deal in 2015. However, without guidelines and a medical marijuana marketplace, the 14,000 registered patients in Georgia have no way of legally obtaining the oil.

Zane Bader of the Georgia Cannabis Trade Association said most patients have to break the law or leave the state to obtain the oil, which can used to treat serious illnesses such as cancer, Parkinson's disease and AIDS.

Gov. Brian Kemp has pushed forward the process since taking office, signing Georgia's Hope Act in April 2019. It created the commission to oversee the regulation of the medical marijuana industry.

Georgia's Hope Act took effect in July 2019. The commission held its first meeting in December 2019. However, Bader believes the pandemic, understaffing and underfunding continued to delay the process.

Kemp's administration recommended the commission receive a startup budget of $1.2 million, but lawmakers allocated over $200,000 for fiscal year 2020, and about $200,000 less than the commission requested in fiscal year 2021. The commission received more than $847,000 in fiscal year 2022.

"Patients definitely need access to their products that they've been waiting for, and it's just kind of unfortunate that it's taken this long," Bader said.

The commission said once the licenses are awarded, companies can start constructing facilities and production, which could take six to eight months from the date of contract awards. It takes three to eight months to grow a cannabis plant.

The commission will be issuing the notice of intent to award contracts for two Class 1 and four Class 2 Production Licenses on Saturday.

Class 1 production licenses allow up to 100,000 square feet of space for indoor cultivation and the production of low-THC oil. Class 2 production licenses allow up to 50,000 square feet of space for indoor cultivation and the production of low-THC oil.

The application fee for a Class 1 license was $25,000. The Class 1 license fee is $200,000, and licensees will have to pay $100,000 to renew it each year. The application fee for a Class 2 license was $5,000. The Class 2 license fee is $100,000, and licensees will have to pay $50,000 to renew each year.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for five years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.