Representatives on the Georgia Medical Cannabis Working Group voted Wednesday to recommend medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation on Wednesday. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM

Medical marijuana dispensary bill advances in Georgia House

Georgia representatives reviewing the state’s medical marijuana laws voted unanimously Wednesday to move ahead with a bill to allow cannabis oil dispensaries.

State Rep. Allen Peake, the chairman of the House Medical Cannabis Working Group, said there are now nearly 3,400 Georgians registered with the state to use medical marijuana oil, but they have no way of legally obtaining the drug.

“There’s still a huge issue,” said Peake, R-Macon. “People come to the Department of Public Health (and say), ‘OK, I’ve got my card now, what do I do? Where do I get the product? Where do I go to access medical cannabis oil that the state has said I can legally possess?’”

Medical marijuana in Georgia is in the form of cannabis oil that provides patients relief from symptoms but doesn’t give users a high. The General Assembly approved limited medical marijuana use in 2015 for patients with conditions such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

Peake’s legislation, House Bill 645, would allow up to 10 businesses statewide to distribute medical marijuana oil to registered patients. Up to two universities or businesses would be licensed to cultivate, harvest and produce medical marijuana oil.

“The only way to legally get the THC oil here to dispense is to produce it here in the state of Georgia,” said Rep. Beth Beskin, R-Atlanta.

A poll conducted this month for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed that 77 percent of registered voters wanted the state’s medical marijuana program to be expanded to allow harvesting and distribution. About 20 percent opposed expanding medical marijuana, and 3 percent didn’t answer.

Law enforcement agencies oppose growing marijuana in Georgia for any purpose, Peake said.

The Medical Cannabis Working Group recommended that the bill be considered by the House Judiciary Non-civil Committee. A hearing on HB645 hasn’t been scheduled yet.

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