Medical marijuana bill clears Georgia Senate

A bill that would allow the distribution and sale of medical marijuana in Georgia passed the state Senate Friday, a key hurdle in the closing days of the legislative session.

House Bill 324 would allow distribution of the drug through up to 28 dispensaries statewide. And it would allow four growing licenses for the state. The bill passed by a margin of 44 to 8.

The bill now returns to the House of Representatives, which passed a more expansive version that would have allowed up to 60 dispensaries and 10 growing licenses.

Live: Use AJC tracker to follow Georgia bills

Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan, said the bill will help thousands of families who need marijuana oil to help ill children.

“Some may argue that this is not medicine,” Brass said. “But we had testimony of children having 80 to 100 seizures a day, but after taking the oil are having just one a week.”

No senator spoke against the bill Friday. But opponents of the bill have expressed concern that it’s another step toward legalizing recreational marijuana.

“There is no part of me that wants any steps toward recreational marijuana,” Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said after the vote.

Since 2015, Georgia patients suffering from certain illnesses have been able to legally use medical marijuana oil. More than 8,400 patients currently use the drug. But they have not been able to legally buy it in the state.

HB 324 would make Georgia the 31st state to allow some form of marijuana cultivation, according to a group that supports licensing marijuana growers, manufacturers and dispensaries.