The legislature has adjourned for the year, but voters will have a chance to elect more cannabis-friendly legislators this fall. Engage candidates in your state House and Senatedistricts, and statewide, on their stances on cannabis policy reform. This election will be key as to what reforms we can get passed in the next four years!
During the 2022 legislative session, there was an attempt by both Georgia’s Senate and House of Representatives to jumpstart the stalled licensing process (resulting from lawsuits by bidders that did not receive licenses) for its limited medical cannabis program. The two legislative bodies tried to find an acceptable middle ground right up until the General Assembly adjourned on April 4 at midnight. Gov. Brian Kemp stated that he will consider executive action to deal with the logjam, but no specific plans have been put forth yet. Until this can be resolved, the patients of Georgia will continue to seek relief via the illicit market.
Bills were also considered this year (which carried over from 2021) 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, none of these bills were able to get through the legislative process in 2022. Please take a moment to ask your state legislators to improve Georgia’s cannabis policies when they reconvene in 2023.
Georgia voters support legalization, but tens of thousands of arrests continue
Georgia’s cannabis policy is grossly out of step with public opinion: Two-thirds of Georgians believe cannabis possession should be legal. Currently, first-offense possession for an ounce or less of cannabis carries a maximum penalty of up to one year of imprisonment, and more than 40,000 Georgians are arrested every year for marijuana possession. Further, a 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.
MPP released areportthis year that highlights states like Georgia that have yet to decriminalize cannabis and the negative consequences of this inaction. Local allies have been successfully implementing local decriminalization ordinances in cities and counties in the state, but statewide reform is still desperately needed.
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 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.
SB 195 passed in 2021 and expanded products to be available beyond oils to include tinctures, transdermal patches, lotions, and capsules but excluded edible products.
Georgia’s law has been making slow progress to allow various forms of medical cannabis for several years. In 2015, the Georgia General Assembly passed a bill allowing patients toregister 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 are allowed to cultivate medical cannabis preparations in Georgia, along with two universities. Pharmacies can sell the medical cannabis preparations, and regulators can authorize private dispensaries. (Due to medical cannabis’ federal illegality, it is far from certain that universities or pharmacies will participate.) As of March 2022, around 20,000 patients were signed up for the program. For more details, check out our summary.
Licensing has been bogged down in legal challenges and has yet to be resolved. Sales are unlikely to start before mid-2023. The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission still has yet to issue any medical cannabis dispensary licenses, and the Commission has not promulgated rules for dispensaries.
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.