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ATLANTA - A bill aimed at bolstering Georgia’s long-awaited medical cannabis program took one step closer to the finish line, but not before major changes were made to the original bill.
A Senate committee kept language in a bill that would for the first time make the Georgia Medical Cannabis Commission subject to the state open records act.
State Sen. Bill Cowsert unveiled his committee's version of the Medical Marijuana Bill proposing to make Georgia's Medical Cannabis Commission more transparent and create more licenses for companies to grow and sell medical marijuana.
Last year, the Georgia Medical Cannabis Commission awarded potentially lucrative licenses to six companies to grow and sell medical marijuana.
For two years, the FOX 5 I-Team has investigated the awarding of medical marijuana licenses in Georgia, exposing controversial corporate backgrounds involving four of the winning bidders.
The I-Team also reported how thousands of pages of winning bids, by law, were redacted and kept secret from losing bidders, the public, and the media.
"We have a broken system ladies and gentlemen," said state Rep. Alan Powell.
Rep. Powell hopped to fix what he believes was a fatally flawed and deeply political selection process.'
Powell argued Wednesday in a Senate committee that his House Bill 196 would make the Medical Cannabis Commission subject to Georgia’s Open Records act, pulling back the curtain of secrecy surrounding the companies that won licenses.
His bill would give nine of the losing bidders who properly appealed the secretive selection process a license to grow and sell medical cannabis.
"I’m a physician, we are not looking to gouge patients," said Botanical Sciences founder Dr. Robin Fowler.
Winning bidders like Dr. Robin Fowler, of Botanical Sciences, fought back saying the current license holders can handle the demand.
The Senate Regulated Industries Committee voted unanimously to move the bill forward, keeping the language making the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission subject to the Open Records Act.
"The winner would be the public. Because you folks who are doing you your job in the press will then be able to find out what happened," said Powell
But Cowsert's committee stripped out the language that would have given additional licenses to nine losing bidders who have appealed to grow and sell medical marijuana.
Cowsert says no matter what happens next, medical marijuana should be available by this summer.
"The long wait will be over soon. We will be rewarded for our patience, and we'll have relief for these patients," said Sen. Cowsert.
The bill now goes to the Senate Rules Committee to schedule a floor vote. Because of the differences in the House and Senate, most expect a conference committee where the two sides would try to hammer out a compromise.