Georgia’s medical cannabis commission is at work. There’s a lot to do.
The seven members of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission at their first meeting. Credit: Maggie Lee
By Maggie Lee
Seven folks sat on a stage at Morehouse College of Medicine on Wednesday night, watched by an audience of maybe 100 more.
It was the start of a new phase in a state process that some look to for relief from seizures, pain and nightmares.
And that others see as a business opportunity.
People from all over this spectrum of cannabis interest attended the first meeting of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission.
That commission has to figure out the rules, regulations and licensing process to go with the new Georgia law that authorizes medical cannabis cultivation.
The law will allow up to six licensed companies to grow cannabis in secure greenhouses and manufacture a liquid that’s low in THC, the compound in marijuana that causes a high. The liquid will be available via some number of retail locations to Georgians who have a medical cannabis card.
Non-organic pesticides are banned. Only a liquid is to be manufactured; and nothing for smoking or vaping. No one who’s been convicted of a drug-related felony can get involved in the business, unless that felony has been expunged or the person has been pardoned.
Now the commission will need to figure out more details, like how products will be tested, labelled or tracked; and how to evaluate the many wannabe vendors that will no doubt apply for licenses.
The commission has no staff, no office, no website and no direction from a state lawyer yet on the process for traveling on state business. But they’re getting already calls from potential vendors offering facility visits and flights, trying to talk about their businesses or just to say hello.
“Please vendors, do not cross the line,” said Commission Chairman Dr. Christopher Edwards at the meeting. “We don’t have any structures in place at this time to have a mechanism of going forward with you, with some of your interest.”
Longtime advocate-families and patients were also in the audience, like Shannon and Blaine Cloud and their 14-year-old daughter Alaina, who takes medical cannabis oil to treat a severe seizure disorder.
“You probably heard some of the ways that people get the medicine, you maybe have a friend or family member in another state who will take the risk and mail it, or some people will travel to another state,” said Shannon Cloud. “Obviously, that’s not physically or financially feasible for everyone, as well as there’s risk involved because you’re breaking federal law by bringing it back.”
Shannon Cloud asked the commission to make sure that low-THC oil is available across the state, and via home delivery for folks who can’t get out and don’t have a caretaker.
The state law does direct the commission to figure out how to ensure that low-THC oil is available across the state. And it will need to work with the State Board of Pharmacy on rules for how any willing pharmacists can dispense a product that’s still illegal under federal law.
The commission itself includes a pharmacist and three physicians, including Dr. Edwards, who is an Atlanta surgeon.
Other folks who gave public comment asked for things like stringent testing of each product and authorization to grow a variety of cannabis strains.
Those questions and much more are what the commission will answer in the coming months, and maybe years.
The next commission meeting is tentatively scheduled for January 18, at a location yet to be determined.
Once the rules are finalized and the contracts awarded, it could still take a year or 18 months or so to make the liquid.
Georgia is already home to a gigantic medical cannabis company, Surterra Wellness, which has raised some $350 million in funding, CNN has reported. And numerous hemp- or cannabis-related companies have registered as Georgia lobbies this year.