On the final day of the legislative session, Georgia lawmakers gave final approval to a bill that would grant more than 8,000 patients access to medical marijuana.
It's currently legal to use medical marijuana in Georgia but there's nowhere to buy or sell it here.
The legislation creates the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, which will have appointed members.
It also allows for eight licenses for medical marijuana growers. Two licenses allow for 100,000 square feet of growing space. However, applying for a class one license comes at a cost of $25,000, in addition to a $200,000 initial license fee.
Four class two licenses will allow 50,000 square feet of growing space. The application fee for those is $5,000, while the initial license fee is $100,000. The University of Georgia and Fort Valley State will get the other two licenses.
Another component of the legislation is to make sure minority and women-owned businesses get a fair shot in the market. If there are issues with discrimination, a study must be completed and if it’s proven, an additional three licenses must be given to minority businesses.
Republican Sen. Bill Cowsert, who spoke against the bill, questions why so much space is needed to grow the low THC product. He said the state doesn’t need 400,000 square feet of space to serve 8,400 patients.
He said he’s also worried this is a step toward Georgia legalizing recreational marijuana.
“The testimony in our committee was irrefutable,” Cowsert said. “That you can get high taking this medication.”
Cowsert continued his push against the bill saying marijuana was a federal schedule one drug for a reason.
“That is ordinarily not a state function for us to determine what drugs are safe and what amount of doses there should be,” Cowsert said. “Doctors are not allowed to prescribe medications that are not approved by the FDA.”
Republican Sen. Matt Brass said he understood those concerns, but feels confident it won’t happen.
“Those of us that are concerned about this potentially leading to recreation, the biggest thing that happened in these other states, with the exception of them allowing smoking which we are not allowing,” Brass said.
Brass noted vaping is not allowed under the Georgia legislation and lawmakers have limited the list of diagnoses, which he says will prevent the recreational usage discussion from happening here.
Additionally, only pharmacies will be able to serve as dispensaries in Georgia. If that doesn’t work, then it dispensing could expand to other businesses, Brass said.
After passing out of the House initially, the bill ran into some trouble before going to a joint committee between both chambers. House Speaker David Ralston credited Gov. Brian Kemp for helping in the negotiations to get a bill agreed on by both sides.
Kemp is expected to sign it within the next 40 days.