Georgia Expands Access to Medical Marijuana

ATLANTA (CN) — Georgia Governor Nathan Deal on Tuesday signed into law a proposal that adds post-traumatic stress disorder and intractable pain to the list of conditions eligible for treatment by cannabis oil.

As a result of Deal endorsing House Bill 65, Georgia’s medical marijuana law now covers more than a dozen conditions, including late-stage cancer, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

The law, first passed by the General Assembly in 2015, allows patients under a physician’s care to possess up to 20 fluid ounces of “low THC” cannabis oil. The oil gives patients relief from their symptoms but doesn’t get them high.

Notably, the law does not address how cannabis oil is made, purchased or shipped. Georgia law still prohibits growing, buying or transporting marijuana in either leaf or oil form. The law merely protects qualified patients from arrest if they have cannabis oil in their possession.

Since cannabis oil is impossible to buy legally in Georgia, patients must travel to states that have legalized the drug for medical purposes to purchase it.

Federal law prohibits the transportation of marijuana and cannabis oil across state lines, leaving medical marijuana patients without a means to access the drug they’re legally allowed to possess under Georgia law.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, approximately 4,000 active medical marijuana patients are registered with the state’s Low THC Oil Registry.

House Bill 645 would have legalized the harvest and distribution of cannabis oil in Georgia and would have allowed up to 10 businesses statewide to distribute cannabis oil to registered patients.

However, the legislation quickly died after Gov. Deal publicly announced that he would not support it.

But the bill – and other expansions to Georgia’s medical marijuana program – could make a come-back in the next legislative session if a Democratic challenger in the upcoming gubernatorial race emerges victorious.

Both Democratic candidates for governor, former state legislators Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans, support medical marijuana as a way to fight prescription drug abuse.

“I believe in the expansion of medical marijuana because it’s an important step to combat the opioid crisis,” Abrams said at a Feb. 13 press conference. Abrams’ platform also calls for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana.

Evans, whose brother battled with opiate addiction, has also made public statements in favor of legalizing the in-state cultivation of medical marijuana.

“It’s time to expand the use of medical cannabis in Georgia,” Evans said at a Feb. 14 press conference. “We cannot let the fear of change stop us from helping Georgia families.”

Republican gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and former state senator Hunter Hill have all come out in opposition to legislation that would expand in-state cultivation.

State Senator Michael Williams is the only Republican contender to break from the pack and voice support for legislative attempts to expand the state’s medical marijuana program.

Williams has called Georgia’s medical marijuana laws “inadequate at best and criminal at worst.”

“Legalized in-state cultivation and distribution will ensure safe access for suffering patients,” Williams said in a statement posted to his campaign website. “Until medical cannabis oil is readily available for patients with qualifying disorders, what is the point of legalizing it?”

While patients wait to see what, if any, medical marijuana legislation is revived in next year’s legislative session, a 15-member study commission will evaluate in-state access of cannabis oil. The commission will evaluate security, manufacturing, product labeling, testing and dispensing.

The commission will provide recommendations based on its findings to the Georgia General Assembly when the legislature convenes in 2019.

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