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What to know about new group that will have power over medical marijuana in Georgia

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CBD and THC oils, derived from hemp or marijuana, are being used medically in the U.S. Their uses and legality vary; watch this video to learn more.
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CBD and THC oils, derived from hemp or marijuana, are being used medically in the U.S. Their uses and legality vary; watch this video to learn more.

The roughly 10,000 Georgians who currently have medical marijuana cards will have their eyes on a new state commission with broad powers over the state’s budding program.

The possession of low THC oil has been legal in Georgia since 2015 but laws left patients with no legal way get it — until now. State lawmakers and Gov. Brian Kemp legalized the in-state production and selling of the oil last month.

But before the growers get picked and the seeds get planted, the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission must be formed.

Georgia’s Hope Act, the state’s recently signed medical marijuana law, specifies how many members sit on the commission, who will appoint them, what powers they will have and other policy-related issues. The law takes effect on July 1.

The commission will have seven appointed members — three from the governor, two from the lieutenant governor and two from the speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives. None of the members have been appointed yet.

The commission will oversee the state’s medical marijuana operation from nearly the beginning to the end — from picking the state’s growers to developing license requirements to sell the oil.

Members will serve a four-year term, and one of the governor’s appointees will serve as the chairperson. They will not be paid. However, they will get an expense allowance and reimbursements — like a member of the General Assembly receives — for days that the commission meets.

Some state advocates have already expressed a desire to be on the commission, said Micah Gravley, a state lawmaker and one of the sponsors of the newest medical marijuana law.

The responsibilities of the Cannabis Commission

Both Gravley and Allen Peake, a former state lawmaker and medical marijuana advocate, said that setting up the commission is the next big step.

“The law gives tremendous and broad powers to the commission,” Peake said. “It is imperative that we appoint the commission soon so they can hit the ground running.”

There are three outlets for medical marijuana production in Georgia.

  • Up to six private firms can grow and produce it.
  • The University of Georgia and Fort Valley State may grow and produce it.
  • The medical marijuana could be brought to Georgia from out-of-state producers. The third option is unlikely because of laws both at the federal level and in other states.

The two universities have the option to be licensed as a marijuana production facility, either jointly or separately. The institutions could contract with private firms to produce the oil. However, the commission would have to approve the deal.

In addition, the universities could conduct marijuana research if they are licensed as a production facility. It’s much more likely for the universities to do research than directly produce oil for Georgia, Gravley said.

The commission has a long list of tasks, responsibilities and duties spelled out in the law.

  • The group has jurisdiction over most of the medical marijuana operations in the state, including issuing licenses, picking growers and developing procedures for inspecting growing facilities and testing the oil.
  • The commission will issue licenses to private firms and the universities.
  • The body will be able to issue licenses to two firms to produce the oil and grow marijuana on 100,000 square feet in indoor facilities. Four small firms will have the same powers but only 50,000 square feet of growing space.
  • The commission will collect information from license holders that shows the amount of oil produced, number of plants in production and other factors depending on the license classification.
  • The commission will also be involved in the dispensing of oil to patients. Once the oil is produced, an unspecified number of pharmacies or retail outlets could sell it — provided the businesses have a license.

The Georgia Board of Pharmacy is tasked with developing dispensing licenses for pharmacies, and the commission will handle the retail outlets. Both bodies will come up with regulatory rules for the businesses selling the oil.

But pharmacies could have issues trying to sell THC oil. Marijuana is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule 1 drug — meaning the federal government sees no medicinal use for marijuana.

Dispensing marijuana to patients, according to federal law, is not allowed and could put pharmacies at risk. Gravley, the state lawmaker, said if any pharmacies sell the oil, it would likely be small, independently owned places.

To address those risks, the bill allowed retailers to sell the oil, Gravley said.

Peake, the former state lawmaker, and state marijuana advocates previously said it could be one to two years before patients see state-sanctioned low THC oil.

Other important commission powers include establishing a low THC oil distribution network and creating guidelines to ensure quality control, security and oversight of production. Some of those will include testing for purity and dosage levels.

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