Georgia Justice Act would stop jailing marijuana consumers
Last update: June 25, 2020
On June 15, 2020, the Georgia Senate Democratic Caucus proposed the Georgia Justice Act — a broad measure that includes more than a dozen provisions to address police brutality and racism. One of those provisions is reducing the penalty for simple possession of marijuana to a fine with no jail time.
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 enacts 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. At long last, patients will be able to safely access low-THC medical cannabis oil within Georgia. The Senate approved the final language of the Georgia’s Hope Act in a 34-20 vote, while the House vote was 147-16.
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 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 January 2020, more than 20,000 patients were signed up. For more details, check out our summary.
In December 2019, a seven-member Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission was appointed to implement the law and began holding monthly meetings. The most recent public meeting was in late February, before pandemic-related social distancing began. After the commission hires an executive director and promulgates regulations, business applications will need to be accepted and scored. Then, licensing would begin, and businesses would have to get up and running. Sales are unlikely to start before mid-2021.
MPP is grateful to Jacob Eassa, lobbyist with CompassionateGA, who worked hard to get the bill 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 a huge victory, 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.