30 medical marijuana oil dispensaries could open in Georgia

Thirty medical marijuana oil dispensaries could open across Georgia once companies start producing the drug, under a bill that passed the General Assembly.

The legislation would set a limit on the number of dispensaries for the first time as companies prepare to begin producing medical marijuana oil in Georgia. Senate Bill 195 is awaiting Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature or veto.

The bill would bring Georgia one step closer to providing a legal way for about 15,000 registered patients to buy a medicine that they’re already allowed to consume. State law has permitted use of medical marijuana oil since 2015, but it remained against the law to purchase it.

“This is a need that we are seeing across the state,” Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, a Republican from Gainesville, said before the Senate voted on the bill. “We need to quit kicking this can down the road.”

The bill was one of the last approved by the General Assembly before it adjourned March 31. It passed the Senate 43-9, and the House voted 164-2.

The state government plans to soon award licenses to six companies to grow and manufacture medical marijuana oil, which can have no more than 5% THC, the compound that gives marijuana users a high. Those companies will then have one year to begin operations.

Under the legislation, each of those companies would be allowed to open five dispensaries, providing for patients suffering from conditions including seizures, terminal cancers and Parkinson’s disease.

A critic of medical marijuana, Sue Rusche of National Families in Action, said she opposes the sale of drugs that haven’t been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“Thirty dispensaries is better than several hundred, which is what we were most concerned about. That doesn’t make it a good bill,” said Rusche, the Atlanta-based organization’s president.

Each company would be allowed to open one more dispensary for every 10,000 additional patients who register with the state in the future, according to the bill.