The Georgia Senate voted to approve a bill on Friday that would give medical marijuana patients a legal avenue to obtain their medicine. 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, which leaves patients with no way to legally obtain cannabis oil. The bill was approved by the Georgia House of Representatives earlier this month.
The Senate voted 44-8 to pass the measure on Friday, but only after significant changes were made by the Senate Regulated Industries Committee on Wednesday. Under the Senate version, only two cultivation licenses would be issued by the state, one for a large operation and one for a small grower, instead of the 10 licenses in the House bill. Amendments also reduced the number of retail dispensaries for the state’s 8,400 registered patients from 60 to 10. The Senate’s amendments also would allow two universities to create cannabis research and manufacturing programs. Another change made by the Senate committee would create a commission to regulate the sourcing of cannabis oil from other states.
“That will be the fastest way — for sure— to get products our citizens need,” said Sen. Bill Cowsert.
Mom Seeks Support of Lawmakers
Before the bill was approved by the committee on Wednesday, a tearful Shannon Cloud pleaded with senators for their support of the measure. Her 13-year-old daughter has a severe form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome, which can cause dozens or even hundreds of seizures per day.
“Every morning, when my daughter wakes up, I wait to see when I go into her room: is she going to be breathing or am I going to find her face down in her pillow?” Cloud said. “If that one seizure can be prevented and that’s the one that can take her life, then that’s why we need access to this medicine.”
Rep. Micah Gravley, the bill’s sponsor in the House, addressed concerns that cannabis oil would still be illegal under federal law, saying the bill would send a message to residents of Georgia that “your state is going to give you immunity to treat your loved one with something you know works when all the other prescriptions have not worked.”
Gravley emphasized that the bill “is not tied to legalizing recreational use for kids and adults.”
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan apparently believes otherwise, however, saying after the vote that “there is no part of me that wants any steps toward recreational marijuana.”
Sen. Matt Brass argued for passage of the bill, saying that it would allow families with sick children to more easily access cannabis oil.
“Some may argue that this is not medicine,” Brass said. “But we had testimony of children having 80 to 100 seizures a day, but after taking the oil are having just one a week.”
HB 324 will now head back to the House for consideration of the Senate’s amendments. To pass, both bodies will have to approve a compromise measure before the end of the legislative session on Tuesday. Without elaborating further, Gravley said that there are “many, many problems” with the Senate’s version of the bill.