Governor Signs Bill to Grow Cannabis in Georgia for Medical Oil Patients
It is now the law of the land, but it went through a painful birth and several prior miscarriages to allow the growing of cannabis in Georgia.
“The bill will be effective July 01. Hopefully, we will have the Commission together and they will start receiving applications. And the moment licenses are granted, I would love to see plants in the ground so these companies can start harvesting oil,” State Rep. Micah Gravley (R-Douglasville), sponsor of HB 324, told Atlanta Progressive News.
“Hopefully, within the next twelve to eighteen months, the oil will be available in Georgia,” Rep. Gravley said.
“This is the first bill of any substance we have ever passed. This bill has some real-world benefits to people and we are going to see people experience the benefits of cannabis oil,” Dale Jackson, an advocate for his eleven year-old son, Colin, who has autism, told APN.
Prior to this bill, Georgia had a medical cannabis oil registry that made cannabis oil legal at the state level for people who had one of a few qualifying medical conditions.
However, the problem, until now, has been that there was no legal way to produce the oil in Georgia or therefore provide a way for Georgia patients to legally access the medicine.
The Georgia Sheriff Association and Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition (FFC) opposed the bill.
FFC members lobbied elected officials with claims that cannabis can cause mental illness, violence, and highway deaths.
They also have an unrealistic fear that low five percent THC oil can somehow get new users high and addicted.
The Georgia House version that had originally passed this year was more extensive, but the Senate was more fearful of instate cultivation and passed a more restrictive version.
This threw the two versions of HB 324 into House/Senate Conference Committee for negotiations, where Gov. Kemp helped to broker a deal between the House and Senate leaders.
The Senate adopted the Conference Committee Report (CCR) by 34 yeas and twenty nays; the House vote was 147 yeas and sixteen nays to adopt CCR.
To pass in Georgia’s conservative General Assembly, the compromise had to give patients a way to get the cannabis oil with five percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) legally and assure conservatives and law enforcement that Georgia was not on a slippery slope to recreational marijuana.
“Now with this bill, you will see the patient registry explode. Not because people are taking advantage of the registry, but because there are that many people in the State of Georgia that are wanting to take an alternative to all these opioids and big Pharmacia medicine that have more side effects than benefits,” Jackson, told APN.
The compromise version of HB 324 reduced the number of growers from ten to six but with two universities getting licenses to grow the number jumps back up to eight.
HB 324 closes the loopholes created in 2015 with the passage of, HB 1, Haleigh’s Hope that legalized the use of low THC oil but did not offer patients a way to obtain the oil without breaking the law.
Patients had to obtain it illegally through the mail, drive to other states to buy the oil and break the law bringing it back to Georgia, or illegally make your own cannabis oil.
“There have been so many people and parents that I know who did not have the means to go to another state, or the connection to know how to get the medicine, or simply too afraid to go that route because it was not legal,” Mr. Jackson, Colin’s father, said.
HB 324 will allow for the indoor growing of cannabis in Georgia for the first time; and provide for the production, manufacturing, and dispensing of pharmaceutical-grade cannabis oil with low five percent THC to the 8,400 physician-approved cannabis patients.
Anything over five percent of THC is illegal in Georgia. Also, Georgia’s medical cannabis regime still only includes oil, and does not provide access to the cannabis bud or flower as is allowed in many medical states.
Patients with the following conditions and/or diseases are eligible to receive up to 20 ounces of the low THC oil: cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, Parkinson’s disease, sickle cell disease, Tourette’s syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, epidermolysis bullosa, Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS, peripheral neuropathy, patients in hospice programs, intractable pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Possessing, making or selling anything over twenty ounces by unauthorized individuals is a felony and is punishable by imprisonment of one to twenty years, with fines from fifty thousand up to one million dollars depending on the amount of oil confiscated by law enforcement.
The bill encourages at least twenty percent minority participation in business resulting from the Act.
The bill allows for six private companies and two universities to grow cannabis and make cannabis oil with five percent THC.
The bill allows for two classifications of growers, with the main difference being the amount of money invested by the company and the indoor growing space.
Class One, the big growers, will receive two grow licenses.
Class One growers will be required to pay an initial license fee of two hundred thousand dollars and upon annual renewal, a license renewal fee of one hundred thousand dollars. For that, they will receive one hundred thousand square feet of indoor grow space.
Class Two, the smaller growers, will receive four grow licenses.
Class Two growers will pay an initial fee of one hundred thousand dollars with a renewal fee of fifty thousand dollars for an annual license and have fifty thousand square feet of indoor grow space.
The University of Georgia can obtain cannabis through the National Institute of Drug Abuse or from any legal source; and, along with Fort Valley State University, they can grow, manufacture, conduct research on, and test the cannabis oil, according to the bill.
The university system has several options: to grow, not to grow, or to contract with independent growers.
If they decide to contract with independent growers, who are separate from the Class 1 and Class 2 growers, these growers will be free of the restrictions in the bill. They will be under university oversight but will be completely unlimited in grow space and amount they can grow.
The bill also allows the State Board of Pharmacy to develop a specialty dispensing license for private, independent pharmacies who want to sell the cannabis oil with five percent THC to medical cannabis patients.
The Commission will be tasked to work with other states to try and bring in cannabis oil with only five percent THC to Georgia; and, if successful in doing that, the Commission will send the oil out to the licenses pharmacists.
“No one knows if that will work out, but if it does that will be good. The State of Georgia is willing, but it will take another state that is willing to ship to us,” Jackson said.
Cannabis is still listed as a Schedule 1 narcotic under the federal Controlled Substances Act which makes its legal status precarious for states, although there are signs that U.S. Congress may act soon with administration approval to change the federal legal status of cannabis.
This issue may cause some private pharmacies fearful of selling the oil because it might jeopardize their federal status to sell other drugs.
The Commission is authorized to develop an annual, non-transferable dispensing license for retail outlets to dispense the oil to registered patients.
If there are areas in rural south Georgia that do not have a single outlet, the Commission can issue additional licenses for dispensaries.
The bill outlines a complex and complicated bureaucratic system with rules, regulations, penalties, and fines for any violations in the growing and manufacturing of the low THC oil and provides for a tracking system from seed to sale.
All of this will not happen overnight, and it may take months before the product is available for sale to patients in Georgia. Still, advocates are pleased with this legislative achievement.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2019)