Georgia lawmakers tackle medical marijuana during session

Irina Baranova

Seven years since the state legalized its use, patients still can’t legally buy it.

ATLANTA — Backers of medical cannabis say Georgia needs to start over in its effort to license in-state growers. The state had tried to issue licenses to six growers but litigation has kept them from growing medical marijuana.  

Though Georgia legalized medical cannabis seven years ago, nobody in Georgia has been able to get it legally. 

For folks like Dale Jackson – it is way beyond frustrating.

“This will not happen again,” Jackson said Tuesday night, fuming at the state’s inaction to effectively make prescription medical cannabis available to his 14-year-old son, Colin. The teen has severe autism and cannabis oil eases some of the symptoms.  

But Jackson can’t buy cannabis oil legally in Georgia. A few weeks ago, Jackson told a House committee he had to buy it from a drug dealer.

“You know where I end up? I end up about a block and a half from (the state Capitol), buying my son’s medicine from (an illegal) drug dealer. So that’s what seven years looks like to me. That’s real, people. Real lives are affected by this,” Jackson told lawmakers in early March.

At the Capitol, Jackson showed us text messages he’s exchanged with the drug dealer he says he meets in downtown Atlanta.

“Every other month, I go and I track him down and I try to find out where he’s at. And the last (transaction) was $750,” Jackson said.

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Last year, a state commission awarded licenses to six cannabis growers – but legal challenges from companies left out have stalled the launch, and no commercial cannabis oil is produced legally in Georgia. 

“It has actually gotten worse,” Jackson said.

Jackson said out-of-state sources have dried up because licensed cannabis distributors in places like Colorado and California are more constrained from selling to buyers who cross state lines, a violation of federal law.

“The absolute worst, the most absolutely most terrible part of government bureaucracy is what transpired over the last three years,” state Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) told members of the House Tuesday night, as he outlined the delays in getting growers their permits due to litigation.

Powell is behind a bill that overwhelmingly passed the House Tuesday that would start over – replacing the six disputed licenses with 28 new licensees – chosen by a commission composed of members of the legislature.  As chairman of the House Regulated Industries Committee, Powell, a 31-year member of the House, would be one of the co-chairs.

“Let’s see if we can get this system repaired, and in order, for the people who are deserving of it,” Powell said.

Jackson said he backs Powell’s approach.

“Now all of a sudden you’ve got 21 companies (who applied for Georgia licenses) trying to work together and not complain and not bicker among one another.  And that’s what (is) important,” Jackson said.

But it won’t be easy. Some skeptics fear medical cannabis will lead to recreational marijuana legalization.

“Make no mistake about it. We are taking steps to set up the financial infrastructure to create a lobby and a financial set of interests in this state to drive through recreational marijuana in this state, and we ought to be very very, very concerned,” said state Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) who voted for the House bill.

The Senate also passed a medical cannabis bill Tuesday. Jackson hopes lawmakers will use the two bills to write a new framework that the legislature can adopt before it adjourns April 4.

And if they can’t, Jackson said he’s going to dare police to arrest him as he sells it himself to families seeking medical cannabis oil. 

“I’m going to be out there on the steps (of the Capitol) selling oil to 100 families lined up. And we’ll all go jail,” said Jackson.

“I’m not joking one bit.”

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