Legalizing marijuana would safeguard users and increase Georgia’s revenue

A Gwinnett legislator says Delta-8 can be found in every neighborhood and community in Georgia. She says legalizing marijuana could allow for more safety controls and boost sales taxes. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

A Gwinnett legislator says Delta-8 can be found in every neighborhood and community in Georgia. She says legalizing marijuana could allow for more safety controls and boost sales taxes. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS)

Let’s talk about something you’ve probably heard about a lot lately: weed, marijuana, THC and all the different types that might be out there. Medical marijuana is legal in Georgia for people who have specific health problems and a doctor’s permission. That doesn’t mean all weed products are the same or even legal for just anyone to use.

There’s a lot to unpack with THC, Delta-8, CBD and medical marijuana, so let’s dive in.

Rep. Shelly Hutchinson, D-Snellville

Credit: Photo contributed by the candidate

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Credit: Photo contributed by the candidate

First let’s talk about THC. THC is the part of marijuana that is famous for making people feel “high.” It’s strong stuff, and in Georgia, you can only legally have it if you’re part of the medical marijuana program. That means a doctor has to prescribe it to you, and you have to follow the rules about how much you can have. The amount you can possess and purchase in Georgia is generous.

Then there’s CBD. This is another compound that comes from the cannabis plant, but it’s different from THC. It doesn’t get you high. Instead, people use it to relax or feel better without the intense effects of THC. You might see it in oils, creams, or edibles, and it’s generally legal as long as it has super low levels of THC.

Finally we have Delta-8: here’s where it gets tricky. Delta-8 THC is a lot like the regular THC, but it comes from hemp, a cousin to the marijuana plant. It’s a “loophole substance” because it can still get you pretty high, but it’s not regulated like medical marijuana. This loophole was created at the federal level with the 2018 Farm Act. Delta-8 can be found anywhere, in every neighborhood and community in Georgia. It is easy to find and buy, especially in gas stations and smoke shops around the state.

Today in Georgia, buying Delta-8 at a gas station might seem cool or convenient, but it’s risky. These products could give you a much stronger high than you were expecting, and you could test positive on a drug test, resulting in job loss or revocation of probation and parole. The laws around Delta-8 are still a gray area. Legal Delta-8 versus illegal THC is undetectable by the naked eye, and no state has the resources to test all products for compliance with the law.

THC products are available in various forms and strengths in almost every corner of the state. You can get THC products from many independent gas stations, smoke shops, and legal businesses that might have “dispensaries” in the name. However, there are only a few dispensaries open for business in Georgia. For context, medical marijuana cards are available for around $100 on Groupon.

As a state representative under the Gold Dome and after studying this issue I believe legalizing marijuana in Georgia might be the better path to pursue.

First, this is a safety and regulation consideration. If marijuana were legal in Georgia, the state could make rules about how it’s made and sold. That means safer products and less chance of getting more potent than expected.

In addition, the state of Georgia is missing out on the influx of tax revenue that comes with legalizing marijuana. Right now, when people buy stuff like Delta-8 at a gas station, Georgia does not gain from increased sales taxes that typically accompany legalization. If marijuana were legal, those increased tax dollars could be used for things like schools, roads and services for Georgia taxpayers.

Legalizing marijuana also allows our state greater control over who buys it, ensuring consumers of THC products know exactly how much they are purchasing and that Georgia children do not have access to purchase.

Finally, and most importantly, what message are we sending Georgia’s children? When I was a kid, the message was clear: drugs are bad, don’t think about doing them.

However, when half of our country has already fully legalized marijuana, the message that reaches Georgia kids is much more confusing. Kids in our state are being told marijuana is bad in our county, but not in the cities where it’s decriminalized. They are being told marijuana is bad unless you are sick then it’s good. Our kids are being told marijuana is illegal in Georgia sometimes, but it is legal for all adults in states like Idaho, Missouri, Montana and Virginia.

This message needs to be clarified for adults and is not a message that can be explained to children. They certainly cannot be expected to understand.

Of course, legalizing marijuana isn’t a simple fix, and there would need to be education about how to use marijuana safely. But ultimately, the situation in Georgia is a puzzle with some missing pieces. Legalizing marijuana might be one way to complete the picture.

We have an opportunity to regulate the distribution of marijuana to ensure it is safe and more controlled while also bringing in a massive tax revenue stream for the state. During the 2024 legislative session, I am hopeful of the bipartisan support and momentum we need to legalize marijuana.

State Rep. Shelly Hutchinson is a Democrat representing House District 106, which includes Snellville.