ATLANTA - The FOX 5 I-Team has learned that trying to keep up with the Georgia Medical marijuana bid protests is no easy task.
The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission recently awarded what industry insiders call lucrative contracts to six bidders throughout the state.
With the passage of Georgia's first-ever legal marijuana law, the newly appointed commission chairman made a promise to move quickly and set a gold standard for the industry
But, losing bidders and first amendment advocates have criticized the secrecy of the bid process and want it opened to patients, participants, and the public.
"Somehow we mysteriously have the highest level of redaction and secrecy of any of the prior states or any of that and that's concerning. And it shouldn't be," says Jerome Lee attorney for one of the bidding companies.
All seven of Georgia's medical cannabis commission members were appointed by either the Governor, Lt. Governor, and or Speaker of the House. Six commissioners chose the six winning marijuana growers themselves with no outside help from industry experts. The Chairman, Dr. Christopher Edwards, did not take part in the scoring.
Only total scores were revealed, individual scorecards were kept secret - from the public and losing bidders. When the winning companies were announced and their applications made public, thousands of pages were blacked out.
"I don't know if it's gone too far," said state Representative Micah Gravley.
Gravely co-authored the bill that allowed commissioners to keep their scorecards secret and the winning bidder's applications hidden.
"But, if there's anything that somebody's trying to hide, absolutely that is something we want to address in the upcoming session," said Gravley.
Losing bidders filed a total of twenty-one protests. All unredacted and published on the state cannabis website. Hearings for oral arguments and pre-hearing status conferences were scheduled.
So, the I-Team asked to sit in on one of the pre-hearing conferences. But it turns out, even though the protests are on the state Medical marijuana website, the preliminary discussions about those protests are confidential.
"The public being shut out of these meetings is very concerning, absolutely," said attorney Fisher Law.
Law represents Cumberland Curative. His client is protesting and he was surprised to find out that the media and the public were not allowed to sit in on his status conference.
"Public knowledge of what goes on within state government is critical if the public is going to hold their representatives or other elected officials politically accountable," said Law.
Executive director Andrew Turnage wrote FOX 5 to say there were "no scheduled meetings" involving Commission members under the Georgia Open Meetings Act. He promised to notify us when those hearings are scheduled.
"There is no information about what is going on, that we're just completely in the dark as patients waiting for this to happen," Shannon Cloud said.
Cloud is mother of a teenage girl battling a rare form of epilepsy. Medical marijuana has helped in her daughter's treatment.
She and her husband Blaine fought for eight years to get in the Georgia legislature to get a law passed in Georgia that could give hope to thousands of children like her own.
She is frustrated with more delays, ready to put politics in the past and let the protests play out. While they do, she just wants the winning bidders to start producing the medicine so many Georgians are desperately waiting for.
"We've got I don't know, if its 10 or 15,000 registered patients here in Georgia that have this card that says they can have this medicine but they don't have a way to get it," said Cloud.
The FOX 5 I-Team knows some of the twenty-one protest hearings have been rescheduled to a later date.