There was debate over whether Georgia Governor Brian Kemp would sign House Bill 324, which allows the production and distribution of medical marijuana in the state. But his office has stated that the legislation is a go for Kemp, who is set to give his blessing to the bill on Wednesday.
Not all of his team is on board. “There is no part of me that wants any steps toward recreational marijuana,” said Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan after the bill passed the state’s Senate. Of course, Kemp hasn’t seemed like a staunch supporter himself at all times, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I respect the legislative process, and I understand why people are doing it, and I understand why people have grave concerns about this. I have all of those feelings. It’s a really tough spot.”
“Kemp will fight any in-state cannabis cultivation in a state with boundless agricultural capability,” predicted a 2018 High Times article. But now — thanks to heartfelt testimony by Georgian parents with severe forms of epilepsy, among other factors — the bill’s fate has been sealed.
This will no doubt elicit a few golf claps. A combative negotiation process left the bill’s future cloudy in the Senate, but members signed on after they vastly reduced the number of producers and distributors that the bill allows to service Georgia’s 8,400 registered medical marijuana patients, who have signed up for the program since it was signed into law back in 2015.
“Some may argue that this is not medicine,” said Senator Matt Brass. “But we had testimony of children having 80 to 100 seizures a day, but after taking the oil are having just one a week.”
Passage of the new legislation has been heralded as an “expansion” of the medical marijuana program, but did Georgia’s medical marijuana plan really qualify as a program at all if its participants had to violate federal law to get their medicine prior to this bill?
What is worth a hearty round of applause is that HB 324 will finally institute a system for growing, processing, and distributing the low THC cannabis oil stipulated for patient use. Georgia will become the 31st state to authorize marijuana cultivation.
Six companies will be authorized to cultivate Georgian cannabis. A board will have to give permission to dispensaries before any patient is able to legally access their medicine in the state. Currently, it is legal for pharmacies to dispense medical cannabis to Georgians, but in so doing the business could endanger their federal permissions to vend other drugs.
HB 324 will also authorize two university programs to study cannabis — with federal permission.
Currently, there are 17 qualifying health conditions for Georgia’s medical marijuana program, ranging from severe and end stage sickle cell disease, Alzheimer’s, intractable pain, and PTSD.
A decriminalization measure passed unanimously on the Atlanta City Council two years ago that reduced the maximum penalty for possession of up to an ounce of cannabis from $1,000 and six months jail time to $75.