The first legal marijuana seeds haven’t yet been planted in Georgia soil, and they likely won’t be for a bit.
The in-state production and selling of low THC oil was legalized by Gov. Brian Kemp when he signed Georgia’s Hope Act into law on April 17. But there are factors at play beyond just the simple limitations of plant growth, harvesting and production.
Georgia medical marijuana advocates think it will be one to two years before the first batch of state-sanctioned THC oil is ready for patients. That means many patients who need the oil now still don’t have a legal way to get it in Georgia.
The new law leaves most of the state’s medical marijuana program in the hands of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, an appointed board with broad powers that include issuing licenses to producers and establishing quality control requirements.
Members have not yet been appointed, and the commission must be formed before growing can begin, said state Rep. Micah Gravley, one of the sponsors of the act.
“I think those appointments are key,” Gravley said. “I think it is going to be crucial that we get that board in place immediately so they can start drafting rules and regulations … so the vetting process can begin.”
The process of creating the commission and choosing the state’s growers will take about 12 to 18 months, Gravley said.
Georgia law requires the oil not be more than 5% THC. There are three avenues for medical marijuana production in Georgia:
- The new state law allows up to six private firms to grow and produce the low THC oil.
- The University of Georgia and Fort Valley State could also become licensed to grow marijuana and produce oil.
- The yet-to-be-formed Medical Cannabis Commission could contract with out-of-state firms that produce THC oil and get it shipped to Georgia.
Having THC oil shipped from other states comes with a hurdle. Shipping THC oil violates the Controlled Substance Act because marijuana is a Schedule-1 drug, and even in Colorado, where marijuana is completely legal, that weed can’t leave the state.
University-sponsored efforts to grow marijuana in other states haven’t gone so well. In Louisiana, only agricultural centers at LSU and Southern University are allowed to grow pot, and those universities have contracted with outside firms. There have been some hiccups, as the timeline for when patients there could buy medical marijuana has been pushed back several times, according to reports from NOLA.com.
That’s why supporters of the bill fought hard for private marijuana licenses, said Allen Peake, a former state legislator from Macon who led the state’s medical marijuana efforts before leaving the House of Representatives in January 2019.
Peake and Shannon Cloud, the co-founder of medical marijuana advocacy group Georgia’s Hope, have been involved in an underground network that provides marijuana oil to patients for free.
Peake said the operation began near the end of 2015 after forming a partnership with a medical marijuana group in a western state. Peake donates money to the group’s foundation which conducts medical cannabis research and assists families in need. The foundation then sends oil to Georgia. Peake gives out oil from his Macon office. Cloud voluntarily makes some deliveries elsewhere on Peake’s behalf.
Cloud gets the oil as well. Her 13-year-old daughter, Alaina, suffers from Dravet Syndrome, a rare form of intractable epilepsy that begins in infancy.
What they are doing is legal — they have state medical marijuana cards. Neither is involved in getting the oil here from out of state — which is illegal.
Peake and Cloud will continue their underground network until state-sanctioned medical marijuana products are ready for patients.
Right now, Peake says demand has outstripped the supply. There’s a 120-day waiting list, and unless the patient is a child or suffers from a terminal condition, it’s unlikely that the network will be able to give them oil.
“It’s been hard to tell folks no,” Peake said. “That’s been very frustrating.”
For some, that means turning to CDB oil. The oil is made from cannabis and may contain minuscule amounts of THC. But some need higher THC contents to address their ailments. For others, that means buying marijuana on the streets and making the oil themselves, Cloud said.
“That’s not good on so many levels,” she said. “You don’t know what you’re getting.”