ATLANTA – The Georgia Access To Medical Cannabis Commission recently granted licenses to the first group of medical marijuana growers in the state’s history.
But the announcement was quickly followed by twenty-one protests from companies questioning how the proposals were being evaluated.
As the licensing battle continues, the FOX 5 I team scrutinizes a winning company’s connections to a public corruption case in nearby Florida
Real estate developer JT Burnette walked out of Florida federal court just days before a jury convicted him on public corruption charges including extortion and bribery fraud.
Next to him is his wife Kim Rivers, the CEO of the medical marijuana company Trulieve Cannabis Corporation.
The Florida public corruption case began just twelve days before the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission granted Trulieve one of Georgia’s very first licenses to grow medical marijuana.
Kim Rivers was seen by her husband’s side throughout the process.
The main evidence in the federal case was footage of undercover FBI agents. The US Attorney’s Office alleged that JT Burnette made payments to a district official to terminate a competitor’s development contract.
The I-Team received copies of some of these undercover tapes. In it, JT Burnette spoke openly about how he and his current wife, Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers, worked together to obtain one of the first Florida medical marijuana licenses for Trulieve.
In a transcript, Burnette described his current wife, who was hiding FBI agents, as “one of the most powerful political people out there.” And “when you’re damned with the wrong side of Kim Rivers, it’s like punching someone in the shit …
“As a business owner, she’s ruthless and sometimes you have to be,” says Veterans for Cannabis CEO Joshua Littrell.
Littrell has long been an advocate of medical marijuana and is now a member of a group that has not been licensed in Georgia and has protested.
JT Burnette told undercover agents how he and his current wife realized the value of getting a medical marijuana license in Florida years ago.
“We didn’t know how to grow marijuana.” He told the undercover agent, “All we knew is that five licensed marijuana in Florida are damned valuable. We didn’t need to know anything more.”
“They didn’t know about it, but they knew they had to be part of it,” Littrell said.
Burnette later said when Florida lawmakers came up with the new medical marijuana law, he and a former Florida state lawmaker made “small changes that give you some edge” to marijuana law.
“There is a success story. They did it in other states, we have to make sure it didn’t happen here,” said Littrell, whose company failed to gain a license in Georgia.
Trulieve now operates in six states. Burnette is not listed as a civil servant on Trulieve’s SEC filings, but on its state filing he is listed as a co-owner of a construction company to which Trulieve paid more than $ 100 million in 2019 and for most of 2020.
“If you’re using a provider who has now been convicted of a federal crime, it should be a big problem and an automatic exclusion,” Littrell said.
Trulieve’s medical marijuana petition in January, which was heavily edited, warned of “an ongoing Florida investigation into alleged corruption by local officials,” but made no mention of the corruption trial against JT Burnette.
Trulieve wrote to us to say, “The Georgia motion did not mention Burnette because it is not part of our company and has no role in the operations of Trulieve GA.”
The Georgia Cannabis Commission selected Trulieve for one of two major production licenses just before Trulieve’s CEO’s husband was found guilty.
“You have the option to remember this and not issue this license based on additional information that comes up after the application process. You know what to do, ”said Littrell.
Trulieve wrote: “Neither Trulieve nor our CEO are involved in this case.
No one on the Georgia Cannabis Commission responded to our request for comments.
The commission now has to decide whether any of the twenty protests submitted are legitimate.
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