Georgia lawmakers agreed to a compromise bill Thursday to expand the state’s medical marijuana program. The deal comes after competing bills in the Georgia State House and Senate clashed over the direction of the program. If passed, the legislation would open the door for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS, autism, epidermolysis bullosa, peripheral neuropathy, and Tourette’s syndrome to receive medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation.
We ranked Georgia at number 34 among the states for cannabis. If this bill passes, Georgia would likely leap up around ten spots in our next state ranking go-round.
Background. The Georgia legislature approved medical marijuana with the passage of HB1 in late 2015. In its original form, Georgia’s medical marijuana law allowed patients with eight specific conditions to possess up to twenty ounces of cannabis oil with a doctor’s recommendation. The law also permitted only low-THC cannabis oils capped at 5% THC concentration. The combination of these factors has contributed to significant access issues for patients in the state. A 2016 bill failed to solve the problem.
Divergent legislative responses. This session, the Georgia House and Senate each took up efforts to reform the state’s medical marijuana program. The House proposed and passed a bill to expand the program to include the diseases found in the compromise bill. In contrast, the Senate put forth a bill that only added one of these conditions (autism) to the list. The Senate bill would also have lowered the maximum allowable THC concentration to 3%.
The compromise bill looks to include nearly all the House provisions with respect to adding additional qualifying conditions. The 5% THC concentration limit also looks to be safe.
What else is in the bill? In addition to augmenting the list of qualifying conditions and maintaining status quo concentration limits, the final bill could also mold the legal framework for Georgia’s medical marijuana program in other ways. The extent to which many of these provisions – all from the House bill – will survive in the final legislation is uncertain but they are illustrative of Georgia lawmakers’ sentiments and the ways in which medical marijuana programs can be iteratively refined.
- Delineating qualifying conditions
- The House legislation would strike the requirement that cancer be in its “end stage” to qualify absent particular symptoms like vomiting. The bill would also strike language that would require patients with Parkinson’s or sickle cell to be in the “severe or end stage” of the disease before being eligible to receive medical marijuana treatment.
- Removing barriers to access
- The House legislation would also remove the residency requirement that limits access to medical marijuana for patients who are new to the state. The bill would additionally provide reciprocity for medical marijuana patients with proper documentation from other medical marijuana states qualifying them as such.
Next steps? The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the bill would reach committee late Thursday. The bill is, of course, tentative until a final version is passed by both houses and signed into law, but indications are that the bill has significant support from both chambers and is likely to be signed by the governor.