Legal Medicinal Cannabis Cultivation and Sale Proposed in Georgia
Georgia will debate legalizing the cultivation and sale of low THC cannabis products to registered medical marijuana patients in the 2019 legislative session. This follows the recommendation of a state commission which recently published a report endorsing the use of low THC cannabis oils.
The report, authored by the Republican-led Joint Commission On Low THC Medical Oil Access, unanimously recommends that Georgia’s officials pursue the legalization and implementation of a cannabis cultivation, quality control, and sale system similar to those already operating in other cannabis-legal states.
Cannabis law in Georgia
As things stand in Georgia, the medicinal use of low THC cannabis oil (defined as cannabis oil containing less than 5 percent THC) is permitted for patients suffering from 16 specific conditions as outlined in the state’s pre-existing medical marijuana law. This list of conditions includes the likes of severe epilepsy disorders, late-stage cancer, intractable pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among others.
For an administrative fee of $25, patients who suffer from one or more of these conditions are able to apply for a “Low THC Oil Registry Card” which will officially register their medicinal cannabis patient status with the state, and allow the patient protection from arrest and prosecution for the possession and use of low THC cannabis oil. Georgia currently has approximately 5,400 patients on the THC Oil Registry, though this is projected to grow by up to 10,000 by 2020.
However, medical cannabis cardholders in Georgia currently have no legal way to obtain cannabis oils containing over 0.3% THC on account of continued state-level prohibition on the sale, cultivation, and transport of cannabis products — even if they are intended for medicinal use. Presently, patients who desire oils with a higher THC content are forced to illegally smuggle or mail the oils into the state, or participate in illegal home cultivation and manufacture.
Findings of the Commission
The Commission conducted several interviews with registered medical cannabis users (or their families in the case of young patients), advocacy groups, and other relevant parties to study the issue of access of low THC oils and made according recommendations.
The Commission outlines three major recommendations for consideration in the conclusion of the report.
Firstly, the Commission notes that under federal law, THC is still registered as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, despite several states having revised their own state criminal laws to allow its use in medicinal and/or recreational situations. Given that federal law takes precedence over state law in cases of conflict, the first recommendation of the Commission is addressed to the federal government, and endorses the rescheduling of THC to Schedule 2, as this would make it easier to ensure that patients in medical marijuana states have adequate access to their prescribed medicine.
The second recommendation, given “in case the federal government fails to act”, asks that Georgia’s General Assembly passes legislation in the 2019 session that would legalize in-state cultivation — with safety standards and best practices implemented that reflect what is occurring in other medical use only states. Specifically, it is suggested that the state issue 10 grow licenses, 10 cultivation licenses, and an “adequate number” of dispensing licenses, which is defined as a point at which equal access will be ensured across the state. It is also proposed that half of these licenses are reserved for smaller companies.
Also included in the second recommendation is a request for Georgia to establish and require a system of independent lab quality testing and product labelling that will ensure the safety of the state’s medical marijuana patients. It is anticipated that the cost of introducing such a system will be covered by relevant application and license fees.
Finally, the Commission notes that during the collection of testimonies from relevant groups, it was observed that there is a moderately strong pattern where states choosing to legalize access to medicinal marijuana subsequently relax restrictions on recreational use. As a final point of note, the Commission recommended that an improved system of checks and balances be put in place that will assess any further changes to Georgia’s cannabis law - such as including more eligible diagnoses, or allowing other forms of medicinal cannabis other than low THC oils - as Georgia’s elected officials have been consistent in their current opposition to recreational cannabis in the state.
Mixed support for the proposal
State Sen. Matt Brass (R-Newnan), one of the co-chairmen of the Joint Commission On Low THC Medical Oil Access, perhaps summed up the reaction to the proposal best, saying to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I know this bill will not make everyone happy. We’re simply doing this to get access for our patients.”
Anti-cannabis campaigners are not happy with the proposal, with many classifying it as the start of a slippery slope towards complete legalization, this is despite the recommendation of further checks and balances in the report.
“If anyone thinks this isn’t a path to legalization, they’re deceiving themselves,” said Virginia Galloway of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, also to the AJC. “The industry is going to have a vested interest in legalization because they’re going to want to broaden their market.”
Whether this comes true or not remains to be seen, but when it comes to medicinal marijuana in their state, many Georgians perhaps wouldn’t mind an expansion of current law. Attitudes towards medicinal cannabis in Georgia and across the United States are changing, with pro-cannabis viewpoints slowly gaining ground across the nation.
“The public is more open to [medicinal cannabis] now than they were a few years ago when we first started pushing for this,” explains Shannon Cloud, a citizen member of the Commission and the mother of a child who needs low THC oil to manage epileptic seizures caused by Dravet syndrome. She also tells the AJC “I’m optimistic that the Legislature will take the recommendations seriously and actually decide to act on it this year.”
“Even some of the traditional opponents of marijuana know this has been good for the patients,” adds Micah Gravley, a fellow co-chairman of the Commission, in a comment to Loudmouth News. “We haven’t seen the sky fall. We haven’t seen any negative side effects. We’re seeing people that benefit.”
Georgia’s General Assembly sits for the start of the 2019 legislative session on Jan 14. It is expected that several cannabis bills related to the recommendations of the Commission’s report will be considered during the legislative session.