On April 17, Georgia’s Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law a bill allowing cultivation of cannabis for production and sale of CBD oil in the Peach State. The law is a breakthrough for patients who had previously been “allowed” to use cannabis oil, but had no way to buy it.
Kemp, a generally conservative Republican, said he was swayed after speaking with parents whose children depend on access to the cannabis oil for their health. “All they simply want is to be able to help their kids get well,” he said upon signing the bill, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “We’re ensuring these families can purchase what works for their loved ones without creating a slippery slope that undermines our values.”
The new law will allow for a limited cannabis industry, with a total of nine acres of indoor cultivation space statewide. Low-THC (and high-CBD) cannabis oil will be sold to legally registered users in the system established by the 2015 law — 9,500 so far. Ailments such as PTSD, Parkinson’s disease and cancer are approved for the program. Herbaceous cannabis, high-THC products and either smoking or vaping will all remain illegal.
A seven member board, dubbed the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, will be created to oversee the nascent industry, with commissioners to be appointed by Gov. Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and the speaker of the state House of Representatives, David Ralston. Licenses are to be awarded competitively, with only two “Class 1” licenses available to cultivate on an industrial scale out of six total cultivation licenses. Dispensaries are also to be licensed. It is expected to be a year before Georgia-produced cannabis oil actually reaches consumers.
But the program is expected to grow, with the new Commission empowered to make recommendations to the legislature for additional medical conditions that can be treated with cannabis oil.
Putting Patients First
Kemp signed the bill into law after it passed the state Senate 34-to-20, with bipartisan support. Some conservatives raised fears of a slippery slope to general legalization, per Atlanta’s Saporta Report. But Kemp and supportive lawmakers stressed the unfairness of the 2015 law, which forced patients and their families to either purchase cannabis oil through the mail or to drive to other states.
“Families have had to go underground to get this oil. Now they’ll be able to get it legally in the state of Georgia,” state Rep. Calvin Smyre, a Democrat from Columbus, told the Journal Constitution. “The key is getting the commission appointed and up and running.”
The paper also quoted Katie Harrison of Gainesville, mother of a six-year-old son who uses cannabis oil to control his seizures. She called the new law a “huge deal” for patients and their loved ones. “It won’t be illegal to get our medicine anymore,” Harrison said. “It’s the only thing that’s really made a difference. We’ve seen all the other pharmaceuticals fail.”
Breaking the Federal Stranglehold on Cannabis Research
The new law also allows for cannabis research at two designated universities: the University of Georgia and Fort Valley State University. Rep. Smyre sits on the board of the latter. The schools will be empowered by the state to apply for federal licenses to conduct such research, according to the Macon Telegraph. Greenhouses and new laboratories are anticipated on the campuses.
Since the 1960s, the University of Mississippi has been the country’s only educational institution with federal approval to carry out cannabis research. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced in August 2016 it would support the extension of this research opportunity to other qualified institutions around the country. The Georgia law could now put the DEA’s word to the test.
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