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Lawmakers consider legalizing marijuana cultivation, sales

In 2015, Georgia lawmakers approved the use of low-THC marijuana oil for people suffering from several debilitating disorders. However, it remains illegal to buy, sell or transport the drug in the state.

A new proposal in the legislature hopes to change that by allowing medical marijuana to be grown, manufactured and distributed in the state.

Medical marijuana is already OK

There are currently 8,400 Georgians who have been approved to use marijuana oil containing a THC level of 5 percent or lower. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. The law allows marijuana to be used for 16 conditions including Parkinson’s, cancer, sickle cell anemia, peripheral neuropathy and multiple sclerosis. These patients are protected from prosecution if they possess less than 20 fluid ounces of the low-THC oil.

The proposal calls for the drug to be legally grown and manufactured in Georgia, then sold to registered patients at dispensaries.

The bill has bipartisan support but faces opposition from groups like National Families in Action and the Faith and Freedom Coalition. These groups say the health benefits from low-THC marijuana are overstated. They also say cultivation and sale of medical marijuana will lead to the legalization of recreational marijuana, which will then lead to increased crime and drug abuse.

Parents of children who use medical marijuana have rallied at the state Capitol to support the bill and testify to the drug’s effectiveness.

Possible provisions

Currently, 31 states allow for some form of marijuana use, and 10 states and the District of Columbia have approved marijuana for recreational use.

The bill, if enacted, could contain provisions such as:

  • 10 grow licenses, 10 manufacturing licenses and up to 50 distributor licenses
  • All grows must be indoors with a prohibition against pesticides and insecticides
  • Required uniform product labelling and independent lab tests for purity and safety
  • Dispensary licenses split between large- and small-scale growers, small companies and stand-alone retailers
  • Initial license fees that range from $150,000 for large companies, $37,500 for smaller companies, $30,000 for retailers, and annual licensing fees of between $10,000 and $50,000

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has not opposed the bill.

Meanwhile, marijuana remains illegal in Georgia except for those 8,400 people with medical exemptions. Marijuana remains a federal Schedule I drug, putting it in the same category as heroin, fentanyl, LSD and peyote. Growing, manufacturing, distributing, transporting or using marijuana remains punishable by jail time, fines or both.

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