Georgia General Assembly Legalizes In-State Medical Marijuana Cultivation

Georgia lawmakers Rep. Mark Newton, R-Augusta, left, and Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, celebrate the end of the 2019 legislative session in the House chambers at the state Capitol late Tuesday. A medical marijuana bill sponsored by Gravley was passed by the House in the final moments of the session.

John Bazemore / Associated Press

While the Georgia Legislature made it legal to use medical marijuana products, like low THC oil, back in 2015, Georgians have had no legal way to access it. A compromise on that bill passed both chambers of the Legislature late Tuesday, to applause in the House of Representatives upon final passage.

It came through with the support of the governor, House speaker and lieutenant governor after hours of testimony from patients who use the medicine and opponents who argue that it could pave the way for recreational marijuana use.

“Four years ago, we started down a journey in this House where we would allow patients in this state to possess an oil,” said Rep. Micah Gravley, a Republican who sponsored the bill. “You see there was one aspect of that journey that we didn’t think about. And that was where will they get that oil?”

“In 2015, we gave these patients a right to possess this medicine. But we failed to give them the ability to legally purchase it,” as Republican state Sen. Matt Brass put it last week. He carried the bill in the Senate. “Parents and patients are having to drive thousands of miles to buy months of supply at once and then break federal law to get the medicine back to the loved ones they’re trying to help.”

The proposal would allow up to six licenses to be granted for the indoor cultivation of low THC oil. It would also allow two universities to get research licenses: the University of Georgia and Fort Valley State University. No smoking, vaping or edible products will be allowed, and local pharmacies across the state will serve as the dispensaries.

Republican Sen. Bill Cowsert did not support the compromise and argued it “opens the barn door wide” to recreational use.

“The testimony in our committee was irrefutable that you can get high taking this medication,” Cowsert said.

Gravley disagreed. He said in states that have opened to recreational marijuana use, they legalized smokable medical marijuana products, which the Georgia version does not.

“We know that this is a measure that was not contentious. It was supported by our governor. It was supported by our lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House who has been unwavering on behalf of these families from day one,” Gravley said after the passage.

Speaker David Ralston called the bill “some mighty fine work” in a press conference.

Another issue addressed in the conference includes a check on minority business involvement.

In 2022, the commission will study the participation of minority and women-owned businesses in the new industry. And if any proof of racial or gender discrimination is found, extra licenses would be issued.

“Today what we did, we stepped forward on good public policy that provides a better quality of life for a lot of families,” said Democratic Rep. Calvin Smyre. “To me, that’s the key component. And anytime you can do that in the General Assembly, job well done.”