By Maggie Lee
The Georgia House fairly quickly approved a bill that would legalize growing hemp — the idea is textiles and seeds for granola and so on. But a medical cannabis cultivation bill is moving more slowly.
First take the hemp bill — under it, the state would set up rules for folks who want to grow and to process hemp. That’s the same plant species as recreational marijuana, but hemp has 0.3 percent or less THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in the plant. In fact, growers would have to report the exact locations of their fields so inspectors can come check.
It will “give our farmers the opportunity to compete with the other 41 states that are already cultivating industrial hemp,” said state Rep. John Corbett, R-Lake Park, of his House Bill 213.
Congress lifted a near-complete ban on hemp cultivation last year.
One might ask if high-THC marijuana for sale on the street might be grown under the name of “hemp.”
Here’s the thing: THC is produced by female cannabis plants that have no male plants within miles to pollenate them.
If the male plants stay in a hemp field, the females among them won’t make THC.
The full House passed Corbett’s bill by 163 to 3; it remains to be seen what the state Senate will do.
A bill to license medical cannabis cultivation is a bit further behind in the legislative process — and if it doesn’t pass the full House by a March 7 deadline, it’s all but dead until next year.
Under House Bill 324, up to 10 companies could get licenses to grow cannabis and manufacture a liquid from it that’s low in THC but high in cannabidiol, another cannabis chemical. Georgians can already possess this oil if they have one of 17 diagnoses like intractable pain and a card from the Georgia Department of Public Health.
But there’s nowhere to buy this oil.
Patients and caregivers turn to trying to make their own oil out of street marijuana, trips out of state, or informal networks of shippers and friends.
The bill would also grant licenses for up to 60 “safe access” retail locations to sell this oil to state cardholders.
Plenty of the people who support the bill are exhausted parents or patients who want safe products chosen in consultation with a doctor, all convenient to home.
But on the other side are folks who see seeds in Georgia’s ground as a step closer to what they want to avoid: normalizing use of recreational marijuana.
The sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, has long said he is not in favor of recreational marijuana.
“I believe we’ve crafted a tight bill that would get a safe, lab-tested oil to the families of our state in a very regulated way, in a safe way and … in a way also that doesn’t open the floodgates to all kinds of different entities … to try to come into our state and try and change the narrative,” Gravley said at a hearing late last month.
And you might ask if someone might grow high-THC marijuana for sale on the street alongside what they’re growing under a medical license.
Well, worries about that is one of the things that makes some people skeptical of allowing medical cannabis cultivation.
Gravley’s bill gives the GBI and the Department of Public Health the right to inspect the high-security greenhouses where growing will occur and the lab-type spaces where the manufacturing happens. Growing licenses will be granted only to grower-manufacturers, so that all operations will be under one roof, not requiring shipping of half-finished products. These companies will need to track their inventory from “seed to sale.”
The bill comes after a study committee on the topic last year, two subcommittee hearings and one committee hearing.
That last one, House Regulated Industries Committee hearing, ended March 1 with a non-unanimous voice vote for passage of the bill. It remains to be seen if the House Rules committee will schedule it for a full floor vote.