ATLANTA -- The men and women who fight illegal drugs for a living say that if Georgia is going to allow the in-state growth of medical cannabis, the state needs to keep a lid on it.
"We do oppose all cultivation" of cannabis, Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson, president of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association, said at a state hearing in Atlanta on Wednesday.
Sheriffs had also opposed the new law this year that allows some Georgians to possess a kind of liquid medicine derived from cannabis.
But state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, co-chair of the Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis, is leading a push for in-state growth of specially bred cannabis in order to manufacture that liquid. He said seriously ill Georgians need easier access to the liquid, rather than risking arrest by bringing it in from marijuana-legal states.
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Peake wants the commission to come up with a proposal for the state Legislature next year. Several law enforcement officers sit on the commission, and more were invited to testify.
They say that if it is the will of policymakers to broaden the medical cannabis law, they have some advice.
The director of the GBI said Georgia should watch any cannabis grower or manufacturer as tightly as the federal government watches labs that make prescription drugs such as hydrocodone and oxycontin that have a high black market value.
"Get ready, because they're very comprehensive," said GBI Director Vernon Keenan. The federal rules cover production, distribution, transportation and security of those drugs. It would be expensive and time-consuming for companies to comply with a state copy of those rules, Keenan said, and needs to be done.
The liquid medicine Peake wants in Georgia and the plants it's made from would be very low in THC, the chemical in marijuana that causes a high, so it wouldn't be much use to a recreational user.
But law enforcement officials have to think about the ways people will try to push that law, and how some might try to use the label of "medicine" to hide law-breaking.
"The way we see it, you would have to keep up with every seed that was planted," said Rick Allen, director of the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency, which oversees enforcement of laws on legal drugs. Otherwise, the seeds or plants are prone to "going out the back door," he said.
Sheriffs want the right to inspect any facility where growing or manufacturing will take place and all the paperwork that documents it.
And Georgia will have to figure out where to set the bar for driving under the influence of THC, even though there is no quick roadside test like there is for blood-alcohol level, said Chuck Spahos, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia. Blood tests are admissible in court, Spahos said. But the hour or so that it often takes to get blood tests done means that the results could show a lot less THC in the driver than at the moment the blue lights started flashing.
And while Peake said he will oppose any move to legalize recreational marijuana, sheriffs worry about future lawmakers.
"They do see an extension from anything that we do in this state on the medical cannabis side, the legitimate side, if you will, to that full legalization," said Terry Norris, executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association.
A total 23 states plus the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana and in-state cultivation, according to the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. Of those, four plus the District of Columbia, allow recreational marijuana.
Georgia's medical cannabis commission plans one last meeting in December to finalize its recommendations. The next legislative session begins in January.
To contact writer Maggie Lee, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.