Georgia Legislature fails to act on cannabis reforms
Last update: May 5, 2021
Georgia is lagging behind the times on marijuana policy reform. It is one of only 19 states that still imposes jail time for simple possession of cannabis, and one of only 14 that lacks a compassionate medical cannabis law. (It does have a more limited law to allow certain cannabis-derived products, but they are capped at only 5% THC.)
During the legislature’s 2021 session, bills were introduced to improve Georgia’s harsh marijuana laws. SB 263 would have legalized and regulated cannabis for adults. HR 281 and SR 165 would have referred a constitutional amendment on legalization to voters. SB 77 would have reduced the penalty for possession of less than a half-ounce of marijuana to a fine of up to $300. And HB 738 and SB 264 would have created comprehensive medical cannabis programs.
Sadly, all of the bills died without getting a vote. Please take a moment to ask your state legislators to improve Georgia’s cannabis policies when they reconvene in 2022.
Georgia’s cannabis policy is grossly out of step with public opinion: Two-thirds of Georgians believe cannabis possession should be legal. Yet, more than 40,000 Georgians are arrested every year for marijuana possession. And a recent report by the ACLU shows staggering inequality in the enforcement of marijuana laws. Although Blacks and whites use marijuana at nearly identical rates, Black Georgians are three times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.
While legalization does not eliminate disparities, it dramatically reduces the total number of cannabis arrests — and thus the damage done by unequal enforcement. Encouragingly, five of the seven states with the lowest disparities had previously enacted legalization laws.
Georgia implementing bill allowing in-state access to low-THC oil
On April 17, 2019, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed the Georgia’s Hope Act — HB 324 — into law. This bill will finally allow patients to safely access low-THC medical cannabis oils (with up to 5% THC) within Georgia. However, the law is still being implemented, and as of May 5, 2021, producers and dispensaries have not yet been licensed. The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission accepted applications for producers in late 2020 but has not yet issued the six licenses that will be available.
The Commission has not yet opened the licensing round yet for dispensaries. In 2021, both the Senate and House approved a bill (SB 195) to allow each of six producers to operate five dispensaries each — with more dispensaries added as the registered patient number increases. This would result in all of the businesses being vertically operated (including both a grower/processor and a dispensary). It would also allow for other low-THC cannabis products, not just oils, to be produced and dispensed. As of May 5, 2021, Gov. Brian Kemp has not yet acted on the bill.
Georgia’s law has been making slow progress to allow some forms of medical cannabis for several years. In 2015, the Georgia General Assembly passed a bill allowing patients to register to possess up to 20 fluid ounces of medical cannabis oil with up to 5% THC. The legislature later expanded the law to include more medical conditions. However, until 2019, it didn’t include any access to cannabis oil.
Under the 2019 Georgia’s Hope Act, six producers will be allowed to cultivate medical cannabis preparations in Georgia, along with two universities. Pharmacies will be allowed to sell the medical cannabis preparations, and regulators could authorize private dispensaries. (Due to medical cannabis’ federal illegality, it is far from certain that universities or pharmacies would participate.) As of April 2021, around 15,000 patients were signed up. For more details, check out our summary.
As of November 10, 2020, the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission is accepting applications for Class 1 and Class 2 production licenses, but it is not yet accepting licenses for dispensaries. Sales are unlikely to start before mid-2021.
MPP is grateful to Jacob Eassa, lobbyist with CompassionateGA, who worked hard to get Georgia's Hope Act past the finish line and ensure the bill remained workable. We would also like to thank MPP grantee Nora Bushfield of CompassionateGA for their organizing efforts and all the patients and loved ones who spoke out for so many years. And of course, this was only possible due to the leadership of bill sponsor Rep. Micah Gravley (R), former Rep. Allen Peake (R) who championed medical cannabis legislation for years, and all the lawmakers who supported the legislation.
While this is important progress, work remains to be done in future legislative sessions to improve the law. Given the 5% THC cap, it still does not meet MPP’s definition of an effective medical cannabis law. Make sure you’re signed up for our email updates so you don’t miss out on opportunities to speak out for compassionate cannabis policy.