Key Georgia legislator wants to reexamine medical marijuana bids

State legislators have vowed to turn the medical marijuana bid process upside down, possibly rewriting the law and reopening the bid process.

The Georgia Medical Cannabis Commission recently selected six companies to produce medical marijuana.

But following a FOX 5 I-Team investigation, lawsuits, bid protests, and heavy criticism of the bid process legislators demanded answers from the commission.

"Do we need to step in and change the parts that are so arbitrary that’s creating this meltdown to getting this thing done?" said State Representative Alan Powell. 

A frustrated oversight committee at the State Capitol, lashed out at the Medical Marijuana Commission executive director about the secrecy, the bid scoring, and the slow rollout of medicine.

"I want to get people help today, not next month," said State Representative Rick Williams.

The Regulated Industries Committee meeting followed an I-Team investigation of the winning bidders, the filing of 21 bid protests, and heavy lobbying by losing bidders.

Florida company Trulieve was one of the winning bidders. The company's CEO Kim Rivers is married to a man recently convicted of public corruption charges in Florida. JT Burnette bragged on undercover tapes about how he and a Florida legislator made "little tweaks that give you some advantage" to the marijuana legislation in Florida.

Truleive said JT Burnette had no role with Truelieve Ga.

Then there was Jigar Patel of Nature's GA, also a winning bidder. Patel was once a business associate with a man in Massachusetts who admitted in court to bribing a local Massachusetts Mayor to win his medical marijuana license.

Nature's GA wrote to say it was irrelevant "because the company separated ties with that individual long before our Georgia application was submitted."

And, finally, we found Michael Mayes at a Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission. He offered advice to the commission, sent in license application instructions, and volunteered to be a consultant for free. He promised he wouldn't bid.

The commission never hired him as a consultant. Michael Mayes ended up as one of the winning bidders.

Critics, like losing bidder Georgia Atlas attorney Jerome Lee saw a possible conflict.

"Wow. I was not aware of that. It looks real bad when you don't put that out front," said Lee. 

The Regulated Industries Committee expressed concern to the Medial Cannabis Executive Director, Andrew Turnage. Their main complaint: the heavily redacted bids shown in our recent investigation.

It is right here for anyone to see. Page after blacked out page of redacted material. Some bids are virtually 100% redacted.

Cannabis Commission Executive Director Andrew Turnage explained the commission was following the law as it was written by legislators, and he couldn't tell them who scored the bids, or how they reached those scores because - by law - it is confidential.

"I take it for granted that the ones who did the judging were the commissioners. (They were) And I would have loved if they had brought in a third party consultant. (They didn't) Well, a mistake," said Rep. Powell.

The Commissioners, who picked the winning bidders and who knew who was running each company, are all political appointees, selected by either the Governor, Lt. Governor, or Speaker of the House.

The companies that bid were chock full of politically connected players like former Georgia Congressman Tom Price who was on the board of directors of one of the winning bids.

During the bid process, one winning applicant Trulieve announced a financial partnership with the Morehouse School of Medicine to study medical marijuana, according to a Trulieve press release. 

Cannabis Commission Chairman Dr. Christopher Edwards is a graduate of Morehouse School of Medicine.

Representative Micah Gravely co-wrote the medical marijuana bills.

(Anything you can do?) "We can continue to push. We can continue to start asking questions. Obviously we can start asking the right questions of when is oil going to be ready for the people of this state," said Rep. Gravley.

Committee Chairman Alan Powell said after all the complaints and all the unanswered questions, it's time to reexamine the bids and the law.

"Maybe what we need to do is pass some changes, you ain't got to start from scratch, but you can certainly change the whole structure of how they do it. Set aside all this bid business and open it back up. (Start all over?) Start all over," said Powell.

He has told the committee he wants another hearing and more information before the end of the year.