Georgia Lawmakers Consider Bill to Expand Medical Pot Program

A Georgia bill would effectively triple the amount of medical licenses and allow legal oil for patients.
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A bill proposed in Georgia would more than triple the number of medical cannabis licenses in the state, while also opening up the option of cannabis oil for patients.

The legislation, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution put it, is an effort to “jump-start the state’s stalled medical marijuana program, which is mired in prolonged disputes among companies competing for licenses to manufacture and sell the drug to patients.”

The bill came under consideration by a state House committee. If it were to become a law, the measure would up the number of medical cannabis licenses in the state from six to 22. Those licenses “would go to six companies that received tentative approval from a state board last year, along with 16 companies protesting that decision,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and those licenses “would be granted to companies by June 30, and then they’d have one year to begin operations.”

“Those companies would then be able to sell, grow, and manufacture medical marijuana oil, which can have no more than 5 percent THC, the compound that gives marijuana users a high,” the newspaper explained. “With the approval of a doctor, patients would be able to buy cannabis oil to treat conditions including seizures, terminal cancers, and Parkinson’s disease. Over 20,000 people have registered with the state so far, but they remain unable to buy the oil they’re allowed to consume.”

Georgia lawmakers legalized medical cannabis in 2015 with the passage of Haleigh’s Hope Act, which specifically made legal cannabis oil containing no more than five percent THC. But the rollout of the program has been sluggish to say the least. 

As the Journal-Constitution put it this week: “For seven years, state law has allowed registered patients in Georgia to use medical marijuana oil, but they still have no legal way to buy it here.”

There are around 15,000 patients registered in Georgia’s medical cannabis program, but they have been forced to acquire their products out of state (if not the illicit market).

In late 2019, the state still hadn’t appointed anyone to the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, a seven-person panel charged with regulating the program and authorizing which companies can cultivate and sell medical cannabis. 

The commission was established by a bill that passed and was signed into law by Republican Governor Brian Kemp back in the spring of 2019. That law also established mechanisms by which cannabis oil could finally be grown and distributed in the Peach State. 

“Over the years, I’ve met with children who are battling chronic, debilitating diseases. I’ve heard from parents who are struggling with access and losing hope,” Kemp said when he signed the bill. “This compromise legislation is carefully crafted to provide access to medical cannabis oil to those in need. This is simply the right thing to do.”

By the end of 2020, the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission began accepting applications for producers interested in manufacturing cannabis in the state, but the six licenses weren’t issued until last summer.

As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported at the time, the commission “voted unanimously to select the six companies from 69 that had applied for licenses” with “[e]ach licensee … authorized to open five dispensaries.”

In July, those six companies were given “one year to begin operations after contracts are signed following potential protests from losing bidders, providing for patients suffering from conditions including seizures, terminal cancers, and Parkinson’s disease,” the Journal-Constitution reported, with two companies winning licenses “to cultivate medical marijuana oil on 100,000 square feet of indoor growing space” and four others chosen to “operate smaller production facilities with 50,000 square feet of growing room.”

Last May, Kemp signed a bill that will allow around 30 licensed medical cannabis dispensaries in Georgia to also sell CBD with a low THC count.

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