A bill to allow regulated production of medical oil derived from marijuana may be running into roadblocks in the Georgia Senate.
Though House Bill 324 passed the Georgia House of Representatives by an overwhelming margin – 123-40 – officials on the Senate side are considering vastly different options.
There was extensive testimony on the bill Thursday before the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, and the committee will continue debate on the bill Tuesday at 2 p.m.
According to multiple sources, senators and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan are looking at other options for providing access to cannabis oil. One of those options is setting up agreements with Colorado or other states so that the medical oil could be shipped from Colorado to Georgia for distribution to Georgia patients. The other is putting universities in charge of growing and producing the oil.
HB 324, which followed recommendations made by the Joint Study Commission on Low THC Oil Access, would set up a system of 10 production licenses and 10 distribution licenses. Producers would be authorized to run two dispensaries each, and each distribution license holder could have up to 10 for a total of 60 retail dispensaries in the state.
State Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan, was co-chairman of the commission and is vice chairman of the Senate committee hearing the bill.
Brass said Wednesday that if the state-to-state idea worked, medication could get to patients more quickly than the in-state plan, which foresees the first oil being sold by late 2020 or early 2021.
As for the university plan, the only state that has tried it was Louisiana. Though that law was passed in 2015, patients still don’t have access the oil, Brass said.
Coweta parent Jillian Wooton attended Thursday’s hearing and will be testifying Tuesday.
On Thursday, representatives from the Georgia Sheriff’s Association expressed their opposition to the bill, as did the Faith and Freedom Coalition and Let’s Get Clear Georgia.
The sheriff’s association asked for federal background checks on licensees, Wooton said.
Let’s Get Clear Georgia is an organization advocating to prevent marijuana abuse. The director, Dr. Gregg Raduka, has been a frequent commenter at hearings related to medical cannabis over the years. Raduka talked about the current FDA-approved medications that contain CBD or THC that patients could be using instead, Wooton said.
The Faith and Freedom Coalition has been sending out postcards asking Georgians to urge their senators to vote against bringing cannabis cultivation to Georgia. Georgia’s Hope, an organization working to advocate for cannabis oil, showed some of the postcards on its Facebook page.
The cards state “Stop Georgia from Going to Pot” and say that the House of Representatives was “prodded by the pot lobby” to pass HB 324. It says the bill will allow the state government to “set up special ‘pot stores’ and choose who can grow marijuana” and that the plan is “an open invitation for corruption, crony capitalism and crime."
Meanwhile, Wooten said frustration is growing about the lack of availability for Georgia patients who depend on the oil.
Troup County parent Dale Jackson, who served on the commission, testified about treating his nonverbal autistic son with the oil. Jackson said it’s frustrating because there is no consistent access to oil, they have to start from scratch every month because the batches of oil are never the same, Wooton said.
Shannon Cloud, who also served on the committee, talked about how she hadn’t heard from some of her patients who she helps get oil, so she Googled them and found their obituaries. “She found out three of them died from cancer – and how having access would end all this,” Wooton said.