In this week’s post-session newsletter, I want to take the opportunity to discuss one of the more significant pieces of legislation from the 2019 session: House Bill 324, the Georgia’s Hope Act. HB 324 allows for the production, manufacturing, and dispensing of low THC cannabis oil in Georgia.

In 2015, the Georgia General Assembly and Governor Deal enacted House Bill 1, the Haleigh’s Hope Act, which provided for the first steps in allowing patients to legally possess low THC cannabis oil in our state. Georgia is currently one of 46 states that has either a comprehensive, publicly available medical cannabis program or permits the use of low THC cannabis oil for medical purposes. 

Since 2015, the legislature has taken action to expand the list of qualifying conditions for the use of medical cannabis oil. This list currently includes 17 conditions, such as cancer, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. However, since 2015, Georgia patients authorized to use medical cannabis oil have faced one major obstacle to obtaining the medication: given restrictions on the production of cannabis oil in-state, they have been forced to travel out-of-state to purchase medical cannabis oil. 

Recognizing the hardship this restriction placed on individuals and families suffering from debilitating disease, the House Republican caucus led the charge this session to pass HB 324. This law provides the necessary regulations and requirements to provide for the safe and secure production and dispensing of medical cannabis oil. Specifically, HB 324 creates the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission to oversee and coordinate the implementation of this law and the distribution of medical cannabis oil. The commission will work with the State Board of Pharmacy to issue licenses and develop rules for the dispensing of low THC cannabis oil at retail locations throughout the state.  Further, the commission is charged with issuing designated university licenses to approved University System of Georgia (USG) entities for the production and research of low THC cannabis oil. In addition to USG entities, the Commission will approve up to six production licenses – two Class I licenses as well as four Class II licenses. These licenses are distinguished only by the size of their authorized enclosed cultivation space and capital requirements – with Class I licensees being limited to 100,000 square feet of cultivation space and Class II licensees being limited to 50,000 square feet. 

Most importantly, all licensees are required to comply with strict safety, security and tracking requirements to ensure not only the purity of the medical cannabis oil itself but also that cannabis plants, products, and packages do not end up in the wrong hands. Finally, HB 324 provides distance requirements for production and dispensing facilities to ensure neither type of facility will be sited near a school, day care, or place of worship. 

While I remain adamantly opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana, I believe the tight regulatory language and framework within HB 324 will ensure that qualifying Georgians have a safe and reliable supply of low THC cannabis oil to treat their diseases.