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Medical cannabis in Georgia tangled up in legal disputes

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Medical cannabis in Georgia tangled up in legal disputes

Georgia State Capitol. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the April 1 Decaturish E-edition. The E-edition is an exclusive product for our paying supporters. To become a paying supporter for as little as $3 a month, visit supportmylocalnews.com

By Rebecca Grapevine, contributor

Atlanta, Ga. — Back in 2015, the state Legislature passed a law allowing possession of very low (less than 5%) THC oil for patients registered with the state that need the drug for specific medical conditions.

Seven years later, the over 22,000 patients now registered still cannot legally access the oil.

That’s because the state did not set up a system for manufacture and distribution of the oil until 2019, when the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission was formed.

Then the process got bogged down in legal challenges from companies who did not win bids for the six licenses to make and distribute the oil in the state.

The state Legislature considered a bill that would force the commission to issue the six licenses by May 31.

“We want the commission to do their dang job by May 31,” said Senate Health and Human Services Committee chairman Ben Watson, a primary care physician from Savannah, during a hearing on March 22.

The bill ultimately did not pass this session. Gov. Brian Kemp has appointed a new chair of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission. Kemp also said he is directing $150,000 from the Governor’s Emergency Fund to the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission to expedite protest hearings at the Office of State Administrative Hearings.

The six companies to whom licenses have been issued cannot start production until the legal challenges are resolved, whether in court or on the legislative floor. And it’s unclear whether the licenses, once issued, will overcome court challenges from companies who lost out.

Once the companies start production, it will be at least 12 months before registered Georgians can access the low-THC oil, according to Zane Bader, a co-founder of the Georgia Cannabis Trade Association, an industry body. “We’re super behind” other states, Bader said.

Georgians who want to use low-THC oil must get a physician to certify their need and send documents to the state Department of Public Health. Georgia’s law sets out the conditions that qualify a patient for getting a low THC oil card. These include cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, sickle cell anemia, Tourette’s syndrome, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS, “intractable pain,” post-traumatic stress disorder, and others. Each card costs $25 and is valid for two years.

The Federal Drug Administration has also approved several cannabis-derived or cannabis-related prescription drugs that require a doctor’s prescription to obtain. These are approved for seizures and the nausea and weight loss associated with cancer and AIDS.

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