Georgia’s new medical marijuana program could soon get a kick-start

CREDIT: Ben Nelms/Bloomberg Photo

CREDIT: Ben Nelms/Bloomberg Photo

A new law that allows companies to grow and sell medical marijuana in Georgia for the first time has been stalled since it was signed six months ago. But that's about to change.

House Speaker David Ralston said Wednesday on GPB’s “Political Rewind” that he’ll soon begin to appoint members of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission. Gov. Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan could also follow suit.

The expansion is effectively sidelined until they do, triggering criticism from families and health care advocates who have lobbied for years for the expansion.

“I thought it was important that we get it right. We didn’t want to just draw names out of a hat. We wanted to be very deliberative of how we select these individuals,” said Ralston. “We have our appointees ready and you’ll be seeing that commission become appointed in the next few days.”

The legislation, House Bill 324, gave the seven-member commission vast oversight over the state's medical marijuana operation, including picking which businesses can grow the plant and developing the licensing requirements that retailers must meet to sell it.

It's a cornerstone of a law that creates a new but limited marijuana industry in Georgia, allowing the production of a cannabis oil containing no more than 5% THC, the compound that gives users a high.

The legislation was celebrated as a milestone for patients who were previously allowed to use the drug — but had to violate state and federal laws to purchase it.

One potential cause for the lag time is that the commission is essentially a startup, unlike other boards and agencies with built-in procedures and existing members. State officials say they’ve been inundated with applications — more than 50 candidates have surfaced for the spots.

The law also sets strict requirements for appointments, including a rule that commission members must not have any ownership stake or other financial interest in a cannabis oil firm during their term — and five years after it ends.

The delay has been a setback for patients and their families who celebrated the law's passage with hopes it would provide much-needed treatment for severe seizures, terminal cancers, Parkinson's disease and other illnesses.

“It’s extremely frustrating for medically fragile patients to finally get a bill passed that allows the distribution of medical cannabis oil, and then still be waiting on Governor Kemp to establish the commission,” said Blaine Cloud, whose daughter Alaina suffers from a severe form of epilepsy that could be treated by the drug.

“Registered patients and many others continue to suffer every day – and will continue to suffer since it will take time to get companies licensed once the commission is finally established.”

Read more here: Georgia medical marijuana expansion stalls amid 'frustrating' delay