Lawsuit claims Georgia medical cannabis bids were full of fraud and corruption
ATLANTA - While the Georgia legislature battles it out over possible changes to the Georgia Medical Cannabis law, another lawsuit has been filed against the state.
Eight losing bidders filed suit in mid-February in Fulton County claiming the selection process was unlawful and infused with fraud and corruption.
"We’re going to fight to make sure it’s done the right way," said attorney Jake Evans.
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. The I-Team exposed controversial corporate backgrounds involving five of the winning bidders.
Then, another bid controversy surfaced.
"I was a consultant on one of the companies that was applying this past year," Rep. Deborah Silcox said during a recent medical cannabis committee meeting.
State Rep. Deborah Silcox admitted during a recent committee hearing that she consulted with one of the companies last year, before she was elected in 2022.
Reporter: "What kind of help?"
Silcox: "Advice, advice, because I knew the legislative process. Just advice."
She voted on a recent medical marijuana bill. She will not say who her client was, but she says the company lost its bid.
The FOX 5 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 can’t even see what the applications are. We can’t see any communications. We can’t see any conflict of interest forms," said Evans.
Evans’ lawsuit contends the scoring of all bidders was so heavily redacted, no one can tell anything about anyone’s bid. That secrecy, the suit contends, leads to possible corruption. Evans is asking for the court to void the winning bidder’s licenses and disclose all the bidder’s documents.
"The sad thing, Dale, is we’re never going to know the full degree to which there were conflicts of interest. Because we haven’t had a transparent process," said Evans.
"It's very hard to trust a system when everything is hidden," Richard Griffiths said.
Griffiths, was a journalist for 40 years, and now a media ethicist and First Amendment Foundation board member.
The First Amendment Foundation vigorously fought before the legislature and in court to make the medical cannabis industry more open and transparent.
"Who is behind the organization? Who are the employees and investors? Who are the people pushing that particular bid?" Griffith asked.
Currently, there are two bills in the legislature that could be the answer Jake Evan clients are looking for. The bills would increase transparency, limit what can be redacted, and increase the number of licenses so some of the losing bidders who have appealed could also grow and sell medical marijuana.