Georgia Medical Cannabis Commission Hears Cultivation Options
(APN) ATLANTA — The Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis–the purpose of which is to study the feasibility of in-state medical cannabis cultivation in Georgia–held its second meeting, August 26, 2015 in the Coverdell building next to the State Capitol in downtown Atlanta. Three more meetings are planned before the end of this year.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, HB 1 made it legal for certain registered medical patients in Georgia to possess cannabis oil that is high in cannabidiol (CBD) and low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
However, the state immunity does not entirely solve the problem, because one cannot get CBD oil into Georgia without breaking federal interstate drug trafficking laws. The Commission is trying to find a model for in state production and distribution to remedy this problem.
Four manufacturers of medical cannabis, from other U.S. states, gave information and recommendations on different models for in state growth and distribution. There are lots of companies and investors that are anxious to be part of the medical cannabis business in Georgia.
Jason Cranford, originally from Georgia , is the founder of Flowering Hope Foundation and the creator of Haleigh’s Hope: a strain of cannabis oil that is low in THC and high in CBD and named after six year-old Haleigh Cox from Georgia.
“I have seen medical marijuana states fall flat on their faces with over-regulation, strangling the businesses that are trying to provide the product,” Cranford warned the Commission.
“I’ve seen states that attempt to be the sole license holder to cultivate and distribute. This model gives local government control over health care and will not make the citizens very happy. This gives the government too much control over an individual’s health care and the options they choose,” Cranford said.
Cranford can only ship products from Colorado to Georgia and other states that legally qualify as hemp and are sold as food products.
Cranford also said if Georgia would allow a broader range of cannabinoids, not just high CBD, it would help more people who are suffering from other conditions.
“One hundred percent of the families that move from Georgia to Colorado seeking my help are using THCA for seizure control and I can’t ship that. That is why we need to cultivate in Georgia, so we don’t break any interstate commerce drug trafficking laws,” Cranford told the Commission.
“I know Colorado is picked on because we have recreational marijuana, but look at the statistics: we have five prisons closed because we don’t have prisoners to fill them. We have built six schools off the taxpayer dollars from the sale of marijuana. Our crime rate is lower than Georgia. The social impact in Colorado has been positive,” Cranford said.
To answer questions from the Commission, Cranford explained why Georgia must grow plants with higher THC levels.
Cannabis is often produced at ten, twenty, and thirty percent, and it is more efficient to grow it and produce it at that level, to get the CBD oil, he said, in terms of the number of square feet of plants that are required.
“If you put a cap on it, you are going to make the producers work twice as hard, with twice as many plants and twice as many employees,” Cranford said.
“Any in-state cultivation legislation is going to need some tweaking, as Cranford said, you may need to allow a higher level of THC in the actual plant before it is diluted down to what is allowed to be possessed under state law,” State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) told APN.
An Atlanta-based company, Suterra, is poised to be part of the medical cannabis business in Georgia. Their primary product line is topical creams for pain management for conditions like arthritis.
“The capital cost to set up a licensed company would depend on the number of conditions included. Just pediatric epilepsy would be two to three million, but statewide to cover every condition the cost would be fifteen to 25 million,” Jake Bergmann, CEO of Suterra, told the Commission.
Bergmann recommended two business licensing models that are applicable for Georgia.
One, the limited license model, gives a license to a few companies to take the product from seed to sell.
Second, the state-managed model would engage a company, like Suterra, to grow and process the product and then the state would become the owner of the final product. The state would distribute it to the citizens who qualify to receive the cannabis oil.
If Suterra gets a license to grow in Georgia, “We can begin construction on a facility and have cultivation of plants in six months,” Bergmann promised.
Mike Bragg, President of CBD Farms and CEO and founder of Evolve Therapeutics in California, is also originally from Georgia. He got involved in research in California that showed that CBD slowed or stopped the spread of aggressive breast cancer.
He used cannabis oil on his father-in-law, who had stage three lung cancer, and doctors noticed a shrinkage of the tumor and wanted more tests. His father-in-law, who lives in Georgia, got paranoid they would find cannabis in the tests and stopped taking the cannabis.
“We put it in capsules and that was like taking vitamins,” Bragg said.
He believes the biggest problem will be getting conservative Georgians, who have a lot of fear and misinformation about the plant, involved in the medical cannabis program.
He recommends the laboratories, greenhouses, and warehouses all be located together.
“One million square feet or 25 acres of land would be enough space to cultivate all the medical marijuana needed to treat 500 patients in Georgia,” Bragg said.
Robert Blake, with Oregonians for Better Health, said Oregon was an “open state.” The system is open more or less to control the black market because Oregon is a huge exporter of cannabis in the United States.
“The Oregon program is one hundred percent patient-driven. The patients own the plants, not the grower. There are no corporate entities. Companies contract with individual patients who control all the production. Every product that is sold is tested for pesticides, mold, mildew, and other impurities,” Blake said.
He told about a research project where six, stage four cancer patients, continued to live, after they were given powerful and massive doses of cannabis, and were then allowed to sleep twelve to fifteen hours a day for ten weeks.
“We gave them pure medical cannabis concentrate oils, made my various extractors, and they took the oils under their tongue. They took about a gram or a gram and a half at the peak, for ten week,” Blake told APN.
There are many medical conditions, that could be helped by medical cannabis, which are currently not covered by HB 1.
“I have been contacted by a lot of folks with fibromyalgia, arthritis, lupus, and general chronic pain. We’ve got to look at expanding it and look at the evidence of the benefits,” Peake said to APN.
In a press release from the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus (GLBC), State Representative Dee Dawkins-Haigler (D-Lithonia), who is recovering from breast cancer and has registered to use the cannabis oil in Georgia, commented on the absence of Black legislators on the Commission.
“African Americans comprise approximately 30 percent of the state’s population but you would not know that looking at the Commission’s participation. There are many qualified African American legislators, elected officials, physicians, law enforcement officials and other professions here in our state. It would be hard for the GLBC to support an initiative that is not inclusive,” Rep. Haigler said in a press release.