A bill that would allow licensed companies to manufacture and sell medicinal cannabis oil was passed by the Georgia House of Representatives on Tuesday and is now headed to the state Senate for consideration. Under the bill, HB 324, a regulated system for growing, processing, and distributing cannabis oil would be established. Georgia’s medical marijuana program only permits the use of cannabis oil with no more than 5 percent THC by registered patients with one or more of 16 qualifying serious medical conditions. However, current regulations do not allow for medical marijuana cultivation, processing, or sales and leave patients with no way to legally obtain cannabis oil.
Republican Rep. Micah Gravley, the sponsor of HB 324, said that the measure would benefit Georgian’s with legitimate medical needs.
“These aren’t people who are seeking a recreational high. These aren’t people who are seeking to use illicit drugs,” said Gravley. “These are people who have tried and failed with opioids. These are people who want their children to suffer less seizures.”
If the bill is passed, the state’s registered medical marijuana patients, a total of 8,400 and growing, would be served by 60 cannabis oil dispensaries. Rep. Alan Powell, also a Republican and the chairman of House Regulated Industries Committee, said that medical marijuana patients should have a legal avenue for obtaining their medicine.
“It was hypocritical to me to pass bills to let this substance be available to the sickest folks that needed it, the worst, and yet we didn’t give them the access to get it,” said Powell. “There’s nothing in this bill that will encourage recreational use.”
Bill Includes Pricey License Fees
But if the bill succeeds, entering Georgia’s new medical cannabis industry won’t come cheap. Initial licenses fees have been set at $150,000 for large companies, $37,500 for smaller companies and $30,000 for retailers. Annual renewals will set medical marijuana providers back another $10,000 to $50,000.
HB 324 is being opposed by the predictable cast of usual suspects. Terry Norris, the executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, regurgitated debunked cannabis cliches in a statement of opposition to the measure.
“The path Georgia is taking now is a very treacherous and dangerous path,” said Norris. “The sheriffs are serious when they say that marijuana is a dangerous, addictive gateway drug. Even though we’re not talking about legalizing for recreational purposes, we believe all the notoriety of this discussion will lead to increased marijuana use by children.”
Before it is passed into law, HB 324 will have to be approved by the Georgia Senate and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican who took office this year. Kemp has indicated that he is open to broadening the state’s medical marijuana program for patients.
“I sympathize and empathize with them on that issue, and I support research-based expansion,” Kemp said. “Thankfully, there is some research that’s going on in this field that will give us some good data that will kind of tell us how to move forward.”