Lawmakers in Georgia learned a valuable civic lesson earlier this month: always know what you are voting on.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the details on an amusing story out of the Peach State General Assembly, where cannabis reform has been a hot topic during this year’s legislative session.
It all started with a bipartisan bill designed to “help cannabis farmers with a bill allowing more hemp products in a state where marijuana remains illegal” brought by what the newspaper described as an “unlikely Senate duo — a conservative South Georgia farmer running for higher office and a liberal Atlanta preacher”: Republican state Sen. Tyler Harper and his Democratic colleague, state Sen. Kim Jackson.
The bill, per the Journal-Constitution, “started as a proposal to allow hemp farming by Georgians who are currently barred because they had been convicted of a felony,” and would have “allowed hemp farming licenses to be issued to individuals as long as they haven’t been convicted of a felony related to a federally controlled substance within the previous 10 years.”
But after that bill cleared a state Senate committee, Harper brought forward a substitute bill that included the following language: “Hemp products shall not be considered controlled substances due to the presence of hemp or hemp derived cannabinoids.”
That, as the newspaper put it, would have effectively legalized Delta-8 THC, a compound that gives some users a high similar to standard cannabis and has risen in popularity in the United States after Congress legalized industrial hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill.
The bill made it out of committee and onto the floor of the Georgia state Senate earlier this month before some concerned lawmakers wised up to what was in play and returned the legislation to the committee.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that “Agriculture Chairman Larry Walker said he had voted for it in the Rules Committee ‘not understanding everything that’s in the bill.’”
“That’s on me. It slipped by me,” said Walker, as quoted by the newspaper.
What the mishap does underscore is just how focused Georgia lawmakers have been on cannabis-related bills as of late –– specifically the state’s troubled medical cannabis program.
Georgia legalized medical cannabis treatment in 2015, but only in the form of THC oil. Worse yet, as the Journal-Constitution put it last month, “state law has allowed registered patients in Georgia to use medical marijuana oil, but they still have no legal way to buy it here.” That’s been a massive source of frustration for the roughly thousands of patients currently registered in the program, who have been forced to obtain cannabis products in other states or via the illicit market.
A bill brought forward in February seeks to significantly open up the program, including upping the number of medical cannabis licenses in the state from six to 22. After awarding the licenses by late June, the bill would also set off a countdown of sorts, giving the newly licensed businesses one year to start.
The first six companies were only selected last July, six years after medical cannabis was legalized in the state. And the state first started accepting applications from would-be cannabis manufacturers in late 2020.
This month, lawmakers in the Georgia state Senate and House have considered a series of bills that would give a shot in the arm to the oft-delayed program, including legislation intended to re-start the licensing process.
“The sole purpose of the bill is to move the ball forward on getting medical cannabis to the folks on the registry,” state Sen. Dean Burke said regarding the bills. “The process, most people would say, has been flawed.”