Georgia representative says she consulted with medical marijuana company trying to win recent bid

A bill that would strip away the secrecy surrounding Georgia’s medical marijuana industry passed overwhelmingly in the Georgia House of Representatives and is now being debated in the Georgia Senate.

That bill would also increase the number of companies growing and selling medical cannabis in Georgia.

At a recent committee meeting, Georgia legislators heard testimony about a new medical marijuana bill that will vastly increase the number of companies authorized to grow and sell medical cannabis.

State Rep. Deborah Silcox

State Rep. Deborah Silcox (FOX 5)

State Rep. Deborah Silcox caught many in the audience off guard, with an offhanded remark.

“I was a consultant on one of the companies that was applying this past year,” said Silcox.

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 and has exposed controversial corporate backgrounds involving four of the winning bidders.

Trulieve CEO Kim River’s husband JT Burnette is currently in federal prison on public corruption charges. During the trial, her husband testified he was “actively involved in opening up” Trulieve with Rivers.

Trulieve said Burnette had nothing to do with their company.

Atlanta entrepreneur Paul Judge’s company is TheraTrue. Weeks after he was selected for one of the lucrative licenses, Judge contributed $50,000 to Gov. Brian Kemp‘s leadership committee.

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.

“Clearly, the best way for this industry to be viable is to open up the licenses gradually,” said Rep. Silcox.

So, the FOX 5 I-Team wanted to know more about Rep. Silcox’s medical marijuana consulting job.

The I-Team looked to see if any medical marijuana company listed her as a consultant on their bid proposals with no luck, because the applications are so heavily redacted.

FOX 5 turned to her financial disclosure statement. It shows she is a lawyer, but nothing about a consultant.

She was not registered as a lobbyist either.

“I wasn’t paid, I helped a group,” Silcox said.

So FOX 5 asked Rep. Silcox directly.

First elected in 2016, the Sandy Springs lawyer lost her 2020 race, but was then reelected last year.

What kind of help, FOX 5 asked.

“Advice, advice, because I knew the legislative process. Just advice,” Silcox said. 

 She would not say which medical marijuana company she worked with. That remains a secret.

She said her consulting job was last year when she was out of office and before voters returned her to the state Capital as a representative in November.

State Rep. Deborah Silcox

State Rep. Deborah Silcox (FOX 5)

But, Rep. Silcox was in office when she recently voted in favor of the most recent medical marijuana bill that would allow 11 additional companies to grow and sell medical marijuana in Georgia.

Reporter: “Not a conflict in your mind?

Silcox: “No, no, like I said, I was out of office at the time. And like I said, I had nothing to hide.”

FOX 5 does not know if her vote helps, hurts, or has no impact on the company she consulted with.

“Every member has got to determine their own standard of ethics, whether they recuse or not,” said state Rep. Alban Powell.

State Rep. Alban Powell sits down with FOX 5 I-Team senior reporter Dale Russell.

State Rep. Alban Powell sits down with FOX 5 I-Team senior reporter Dale Russell. (FOX 5)

Powell is author of that new bill: House Bill 196. He has fought to fix what he believes is a fatally flawed and deeply political selection process.

“They stood behind the veil of secrecy. That’s where the problem started,” said Powell.

Powell says his bill would change that, making the Medical Cannabis Commission for the first time subject to Georgia’s Open Records act. Which means the public would have a better chance of learning which politically powerful people are involved in which company.

“There is nothing wrong with sunshine. Because that eliminate any doubts,” said Powell.

But the two biggest winners in bid process are fighting back, arguing there is no need to allow more medical cannabis companies into the game.

Former Georgia Attorney General, Sam Olens, represents politically connected winning bidder, Botanical Sciences. Its plant is well underway in Tattnall County. The founder is Dr. Robin Fowler

“My client is a career doctor at Piedmont Hospital. He practiced with Chairman Silcox’s husband,” said Olens.

Sam Olens

Olens pointed out to all the representatives who were set to vote on the new bill how Dr. Fowler practiced medicine with Chairman Silcox’s husband, who is also a doctor.

Rep. Silcox said her consulting job was not with Botanical Sciences.

“In this case it, was someone who lost one of their bids,” said Silcox.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where it will be hotly debated.

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