Whether you've been a "legalize now" advocate for years, are indifferent or are dismayed at the prospect of medical marijuana, your personal feelings may not be purely personal for long: a bill allowing legal medical marijuana sales cleared the Georgia legislature on April 2 and headed to the governor's desk, where it has been signed into law. The legislation will certainly impact nurses. Depending on your specialty, it may even become an every day thing.
Here's what every nurse in the state should know:
The definition of medical marijuana in Georgia
Georgia law in no way enables legal leaf marijuana prescriptions, nor does it legalize marijuana for recreational use. Under current law, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health, qualified people may legally possess as much as 20 fluid ounces of "low THC oil" derived from the marijuana plant. Only residents of Georgia can qualify for a THC Registry card (or the parents or legal guardians of adults or children with one of the covered ailments).
A short synopsis of Georgia medical marijuana law
While doctors in Georgia have - in theory - been legally able to prescribe medical marijuana since 2015, the law previously stopped short of providing a way for patients to purchase marijuana. Those who had prescriptions, (typically patients with advanced cancers, seizures or other debilitating illnesses) had to use mail-order to fill their prescriptions or drive to other states. House Bill 324 now gives patients several legal, but still highly prohibitive, options for buying medical marijuana oil, including a distribution system that allows certain companies to grow the marijuana and pharmacies to dispense it. Gov. Brian Kemp signed the legislation, which wasn’t surprising given that he helped broker an agreement so that HB324 would pass the state legislature.
When medical marijuana is indicated for patients
The potential diagnoses that would enable a patient to qualify for the Low THC Oil Registry in the state are varied and fairly widespread. According to the GDPH, some of the key indications for a prescription include:
- Cancer "when such diagnosis is end stage or the treatment produces related wasting illness or recalcitrant nausea and vomiting"
- Seizure disorders "related to diagnosis of epilepsy or trauma related head injuries"
- Autism spectrum disorder "when a patient is 18 years of age or more or less than 18 years of age and diagnosed with severe autism"
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, "when such diagnosis is severe or end stage"
- Multiple sclerosis "when such diagnosis is severe or end stage"
- Crohn's, Alzheimer's, epidermolysis bullosa or mitochondrial disease
- Severe or end-stage Parkinson's, peripheral neuropathy, AIDS, or sickle cell disease
- Severe Tourette's syndrome
- A person is in hospice, "either as inpatient or outpatient"
- When a patient is suffering "intractable pain"
- Post-traumatic stress disorder "resulting from direct exposure to or witnessing of a trauma for a patient who is at least 18 years of age"
Previously, physicians treating qualified patients sent both a waiver and physician certification requesting a card which is then valid for two years from the date it is issued. Now that Kemp has signed the bill, state-sanctioned medical marijuana products are available to patients within 12 months of the license date.
Is there a cannabis career path?
This may come as a shock, but yes! The cannabis nursing specialty is a thing, according to Nurse.org. And as restrictions on producing or selling medical marijuana oil in Georgia are lifted, the industry is bound to expand along with it. "Though cannabis remains a prohibited substance by the federal government, medical marijuana is now legal in 29 states plus DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam. What was once a desperate last resort that turned terminally-ill patients into criminals is now an effective, well-documented form of treatment gaining wider acceptance."
Describing the work of a cannabis nurse in another state, the site explained: "she can often help find the right cannabis product to ease their anxiety and lingering pain. Her clinic offers qualified counseling to safely and effectively use cannabinoids to manage a health condition, cure an illness, or reduce the intake of pharmaceuticals. She also provides education and training to other medical practitioners on the therapeutic potential of cannabis as a treatment option."