Bye-bye to Georgia’s medical cannabis bill—for now.
Last week, Georgia’s legislative body resolved to drop the most recent medical cannabis bill after it failed to come to a compromise on the proposed repairs. This leaves medical cannabis patients with the short end of the stick as they would be unable to purchase their cannabis-derived drugs legally.
This same bill was introduced and approved in the state’s House of Representatives some weeks ago before it was passed on to the Senate for the final vote. However, the Senate voted 28 to 27 in favor of the nays, which was the end of the bill. The bill sought to fix Georgia’s ineffective medical cannabis program and make the drugs more affordable, accessible, and trustworthy for the state’s medical cannabis patients.
Georgia’s doomed medical cannabis program
Georgia’s state legislature first approved the medical cannabis law in 2015, titled the Haleigh’s Hope Act. The measure was implemented to permit residents suffering from specific disease conditions to purchase and use cannabis oil for relief. Some medical conditions include muscle spasms, seizure disorders, and pain originating from end-stage cancers. The cannabis products that were approved contained up to 5% THC.
The legislature failed to make proper provisions to regulate the production and sale of this product. Hence, defeating the true purpose of the bill. The bill only made it legal theoretically, but these provisions for the production and sales of cannabis oil would have made it practically possible. Patients were more or less in the same spot.
Fast forward to 2019, the legislature approved a much-needed measure to authorize the legal cultivation and production of medical pot and cannabis oil, respectively. The bill also permitted the sale of these products to registered patients. Later that year, Brian Kemp and Geoff Duncan, Governor, and Lieutenant Governor, nominated a seven-man committee to oversee the regulation of the program. The appointees were tasked with drafting rules and policies and licensing medical cannabis cultivators and producers.
Despite all these, the logjam in the program was still evident and made things difficult. Last year, the state’s cannabis regulating committee, the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission (GMCC), revealed that it would select six companies out of seventy applicants for licensing. This announcement received a lot of backlashes, and aggrieved, unsuccessful applicants filed many protests. Georgia Atlas, one of the applicants, filed a lawsuit describing the commission’s selection methods as partial and lacking in objectivity and transparency.
The different lawsuits resulted in a total halt to the licensing process. This leaves over 18,000 approved medical cannabis users with no option to access their drugs.
Everyone Is Disappointed
David Ralston, the Speaker of the State’s House of Representatives, expressed his disappointment at the entire situation. The bill’s death in the senate is a loss for all, especially the patients who will be unable to purchase legal cannabis oil and flowers for their treatment.
Ralston explained that the legislature had been trying to repair the state’s medical cannabis program for the last seven years. It is quite unfortunate that the Senate failed to come to a compromise on this issue. He recalled that in March, both legislative chambers agreed to address the issues ailing the medical program using two separate bills. Only a miracle can get Georgia’s medical cannabis program up and running anytime soon.
A legislative conference committee drafted the just thrashed compromise proposal. The language of the bill stated that the state’s cannabis agency would reassess all the filed protests as well as the original applications submitted—to select six companies to be awarded operational licenses impartially. If the bill had been approved, at least six medical permits would have been issued by June. The bill included a proposal to allow regulators to award three extra licenses to medical cannabis producers in the state. Unlike the Senate, the House of Representatives voted 95 to 73 in favor of the Yay some weeks ago. The recent events have licensed patients wishing the representatives had all the authority.
Representative Ben Watson commented that the turn of events is shameful. He explained that this plan has been in the works for a decade and is constantly being delayed by people who ought to be committed to getting cannabis oil to children and adults who desperately need it. He added that all children in the state, as well as the registered patients, deserve relief—and cannabis oil is the next best thing to grant them that relief.
The disappointment Dale Jackson, a patient’s caregiver and an aspiring license holder, felt couldn’t be hidden when he commented that the government of Georgia had accomplished nothing in improving or repairing the state’s cannabis program. He stressed that the commission had failed hundreds of families in the state. He termed the current state of the program an “abomination.”
The next path involves working on another separate bill to address these current issues. The House Majority Leader, Jon Burns, disclosed that the House has finally decided its next course of action. He says the new plan considers all the people involved. It is borne out of a need for the ailing residents to access the products.
According to Burns, the next step will make a significant difference in patients’ health in Georgia.
The new measure has been put on hold in the Senate as Gloria Butler, Senate Minority Leader, moved to table it. As soon as a motion is approved to put the regulation into motion again, the Senators will cast their votes.
The logjam is yet to be broken, and there’s no definite date for the issues ailing the commission to be resolved.
The House of Representatives did their part. Even Ralston stated that he hoped the aggrieved families would know that the blame lies with the senate. The House really worked on the conference committee and did all they could to pull the Senate in. Yet, the results were disappointing. The state’s legislature is back where it started—deliberating on better measures to pull its cannabis program out of the current mess. Cannabis advocates also call on the legislative bodies and the commission to be transparent in the licensing process. All companies must be placed on an equal and level playing field.
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