Seven years ago, Georgia opened the door for thousands of people with serious health issues to legally purchase low doses of marijuana oil instead of opioids to help ease their pain.
Now, Georgia’s medical cannabis program has stalled amid a licensing snafu for growers and the state legislature’s failure to resolve delays.
Roughly 23,000 Georgians sit on a state-run registry list to allow them to use marijuana oil for treating severe medical conditions such as cancer, seizures, multiple sclerosis, autism and Alzheimer’s disease.
They’ve had permission to take medical cannabis since 2015. But they don’t have a way to get it legally.
Created in 2019, the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission was supposed to have six regulated growing operations up and running by now, advocates say. But the licenses approved last July have been tied up in legal protests from prospective marijuana growers who were denied a license, while legislation aimed at clearing the bottleneck failed in the Georgia Senate last month.
The road to accessing medical cannabis for around 23,000 Georgians with qualified needs has been long and winding – and still not finished – since it began in 2015. (Credit: Brittney Phan for State Affairs)
It’s become a debacle for patients and pro-cannabis advocates who were promised access to medical marijuana, but whose only options remain using what they view as less-effective CBD and hemp oils – or illegally acquiring more potent products from out-of-state shippers or street dealers.
“Patients are still suffering,” said Yolanda Bennett, co-founder of the nonprofit Georgia Medical Cannabis Society. “Georgia has dropped the ball and failed to provide safe medical cannabis for people.”
Opponents worry that allowing medical cannabis in Georgia could lead to broad marijuana legalization for recreational use – a development many critics say would harm Georgians’ health and safety, particularly that of kids.
“We’re concerned this is a step toward legalizing marijuana for social and recreational purposes,” said Terry Norris, executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association. “Today’s marijuana on the illegal side is many, many times more potent than marijuana of even five years ago.”