Medical marijuana dispensaries finally open in Georgia

Patients allowed to buy cannabis oil for the first time
Sydney Wages, 19, and her dad, Jim Wages, both of Dallas, were at Trulieve's medical marijuana dispensary in Marietta. Georgia's first medical marijuana dispensaries opened Friday in Marietta and Macon. Sydney Wages was the first patient to receive medical marijuana at the dispensary. (Photo by Rebecca Breyer / freelance photographer)

Credit: Rebecca Breyer for the AJC

Credit: Rebecca Breyer for the AJC

Sydney Wages, 19, and her dad, Jim Wages, both of Dallas, were at Trulieve's medical marijuana dispensary in Marietta. Georgia's first medical marijuana dispensaries opened Friday in Marietta and Macon. Sydney Wages was the first patient to receive medical marijuana at the dispensary. (Photo by Rebecca Breyer / freelance photographer)

Georgia’s first medical marijuana dispensaries opened Friday, fulfilling the hopes of patients who have been waiting years for a legal way to buy cannabis oil.

Patients and caregivers lined up outside two dispensaries in Marietta and Macon for their grand opening as Georgians sought relief from severe seizures, Parkinson’s disease, terminal cancers and other illnesses approved for treatment with the drug. The dispensaries are operated by Trulieve Georgia, one of the state’s two licensed cannabis companies.

“We just hit the lottery. We finally got to a point where we could actually walk in instead of having to meet in a parking lot and pick up our oil,” said Jim Wages, the first customer in Marietta, who uses the oil to ease his 19-year-old daughter’s epilepsy. “It’s such a relief.”

The start of medical marijuana sales in Georgia is the culmination of eight years of efforts since state law allowed patients to consume the drug but didn’t provide a way for them to buy it.

Since then, dispensaries have been delayed by years of debates, lawsuits and disputes over licenses granted to Trulieve Georgia and Botanical Sciences. The first dispensary operated by Botanical Sciences is expected to open next month.

“I’ll finally be able to relax and not feel constant pain when I get up and get moving,” Ken Moore of Woodstock, who suffers from back and knee pain, said as he waited for Trulieve’s doors to open at its Marietta store. “I’ve been waiting for this since 2015.”

Zachary Easterwood, a shift supervisor, talks about the benefits of medical marijuana Friday at Trulieve's medical marijuana dispensary in Marietta, one of the first two to operate in Georgia. (Photo by Rebecca Breyer/freelance photographer)

Credit: Rebecca Breyer

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Credit: Rebecca Breyer

Trulieve, which operates 184 stores across the country, opened for business just two days after a state board approved its dispensary licenses.

“Folks have been waiting for quite some time to access medical marijuana,” Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers said. “We feel an incredible honor and responsibility to see through our commitment to bring quality products to folks in the state of Georgia.”

Medical marijuana will be sold in the form of cannabis oil packaged as liquid tinctures, topical creams or capsules, with prices starting at $25. Smokable products aren’t allowed. Recreational usage of marijuana remains illegal in Georgia.

Over 27,000 patients and 19,000 caregivers are already signed up for Georgia’s medical marijuana program, allowing them to buy the product at dispensaries. The number of registered patients is expected to quickly rise now that Georgians finally have a way to buy the product.

“Thousands of Georgians will be able to have improved quality of life through access to medical cannabis here in our state,” said Allen Peake, a former Republican state representative from Macon and the program’s forefather. “The sky is not going to fall if medical cannabis is provided to Georgia citizens.”

The medication will benefit children suffering from seizures, soccer moms with cancer, college kids with Crohn’s disease and grandfathers with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, he said.

All of the state’s medical marijuana is being grown and processed in South Georgia greenhouses, including this 100,000-square-foot facility that Botanical Sciences operates in Glennville.

Credit: Contributed

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Credit: Contributed

All of the state’s medical marijuana is being grown and processed in South Georgia greenhouses, inspected at a lab in Macon, then sold to patients at dispensaries.

Cannabis oil can have no more than 5% THC, the compound that gives marijuana users a high.

Zachary Easterwood, a shift supervisor for Trulieve, said he hopes patients get the same kind of help that his grandfather felt when he illegally used cannabis to deal with cancer.

“I saw a complete change in his behavior when it came to appetite and pain relief,” Easterwood said. “That’s just my personal experience, though. Cannabis isn’t a one-size-fits-all T-shirt. Everybody’s going to have a different experience with it. Generally, everybody will have a positive one.”

Stores are only able to sell to patients or caregivers who possess a valid state Low-THC Oil Registry card that can be obtained following approval from a physician.

Georgia is one of the last states in the country to allow the sale of medical marijuana, following about 40 other states including Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.


Medical marijuana in Georgia

Dispensary locations: Marietta and Macon, although more are expected to open in other locations.

Treatable conditions: Acquired immune deficiency syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, autism, end-stage cancer, Crohn’s disease, epidermolysis bullosa, intractable pain, mitochondrial disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, peripheral neuropathy, post-traumatic stress disorder, seizure disorders, sickle cell disease and Tourette’s syndrome. For most conditions, state law requires “severe” diagnoses.

Patient registry: Georgians can buy cannabis oil at dispensaries if they obtain a Low-THC Oil Registry card from the state Department of Public Health following approval from a physician.

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