Georgia governor slams door on major medical marijuana expansion in 2018

Decision shifts debate over program to next governor

Gov. Nathan Deal said he would oppose an effort to legalize the in-state cultivation of medical marijuana this year, forcing supporters of a major expansion to wait until his successor takes office next year to press their case.

The governor said in an interview he was concerned there weren’t enough safeguards to allow in-state cultivation this year, and he urged the effort’s supporters to instead press federal lawmakers to change the law that makes it illegal to grow and transport marijuana across state lines.

“Even though they turn their head the other way and don’t enforce those restrictions in certain circumstances, that’s not a very good way of doing business,” Deal said of federal authorities. “We should not have to go around and sneak around to avoid the federal government’s laws and rules.”

The February 9nd, 2018 edition of Georgia Legislative Week in Review with Mark Neisse, Maya T. Prabhu and the Phrase of the Week by James Salzer. Video by Bob Andres /

When asked whether his comments mean he won’t support the legislation this year, Deal answered quickly: “No. I don’t think you will.”

Georgia law allows people suffering from more than a dozen illnesses to register with the state and possess up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil, and more than 3,500 patients are now on the registry.

But because the state doesn’t allow in-state cultivation, families who obtain medical marijuana from other states risk defying federal law for transporting the drug across state lines.

State Rep. Allen Peake, who wrote the state's medical marijuana law, has lobbied the governor and legislators to allow a limited form of cultivation and manufacturing. He said Monday he was "disappointed but not surprised" by Deal's position.

“I’m more disappointed for the 3,500 hurting Georgians who have registered with the state to legally possess the product but still have no legal way to get it,” said Peake, a Macon Republican.

“I guess it will be an issue that the next governor will have to decide, and I fully expect it to be a huge issue in the upcoming election.”

Two of the five leading Republican candidates for governor – businessman Clay Tippins and state Sen. Michael Williams – have said they support in-state cultivation. The two Democratic candidates, former state legislators Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans, also are open to the idea.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll of Georgia voters published in January showed 77 percent were comfortable with in-state cultivation. Just over half of those surveyed supported legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

Deal said until he leaves office in January, state legislators should instead be pushing Congress to “give the states more flexibility” on medical marijuana.

“There’s a lot of confusion and overlay of federal rules and laws,” he said, “and that needs to be the starting point of doing something about it.”

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