Board launches effort to deliver medical marijuana to Georgia patients

The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission met for the first time Wednesday at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. The commission is responsible for finding ways to provide medical marijuana oil to registered patients. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM

A new government board started setting up ways to distribute medical marijuana oil in Georgia on Wednesday, an effort to provide access to the drug to patients who are already allowed to use it.

The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, during its first meeting Wednesday, began exploring how to manufacture or import the oil for use by the state's nearly 14,000 registered patients.

The commission’s members emphasized that they want to help people get the medicine that works for them.

“We have patients who have been granted cards to be able to obtain a medical product that they have no legal ways of getting in Georgia right now,” said Dr. Judith Rochon, a psychiatrist and member of the commission.

Dr. Christopher Edwards, the commission’s chairman, said he won’t tolerate impediments to implementing Georgia’s medical marijuana program.

“This is something that needs to happen and should happen to care for people,” said Edwards, a surgeon at the Atlanta Neurological & Spine Institute. “We’re all going to be focused on one thing, getting the families what they need when they need it.”

Patients have been allowed to use medical marijuana in Georgia since 2015, but it was only this year that the General Assembly passed a bill permitting its production and sale.

That law tasked the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission with creating a distribution network, establishing testing and oversight rules, and issuing licenses for businesses to sell the oil.

Under the law, six companies will be licensed to cultivate medical marijuana, which can have no more than 5% THC, the compound that gives marijuana users a high.

The commission will also explore shipping cannabis oil from other states or growing it at state universities.

Wesley Johnson, who suffers pain from peripheral neuropathy, said medical marijuana is the only drug that gave him relief and allowed him to stop taking prescription painkillers that weren’t working as well.

“I had no decision but to break the law,” Johnson told the commission. “When you’re confronted with so much pain that you want to die, jail is nothing.”

The commission includes three doctors, a police chief, a health policy professor, a member of the Georgia Board of Pharmacy and a massage franchise owner.

Board members said they will treat medical marijuana oil as a drug, with plans to test it for purity and set appropriate dosages.

Despite the board’s pledge to act quickly, patients advocating for medical marijuana said they believe it could take 18 months or more to create regulations, issue licenses and get medicine to patients.

The board plans to hire a director, create a website and hold public meetings monthly across Georgia.

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