Georgia Legislature again fails to act on cannabis reforms in 2023
During the 2023 legislative session, there was an unsuccessful attempt by Georgia’s 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.
Bills were also considered this year to improve Georgia’s harsh marijuana laws. HB 388, HB 551, and SB 30 would decriminalize possession of modest amounts of cannabis for adults.
Sadly, none of these bills were able to get through the legislative process in 2023. Georgia has a two-year legislative session so these bills can be taken up in 2024. Please take a moment to ask your state legislators to improve Georgia’s cannabis policies when they reconvene in 2024:
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 a report last 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 are just beginning to get licenses. The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission accepted applications for producers and dispensaries. As of April 2023, the state has issues only two production licennses. In April 2023 the state issues its first laboratory license. Sales are expected to begin in the summer of 2023.
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, vaporization, and raw flower.
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 September 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. 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.
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On April 20, Delaware State University’s female lacrosse team was traveling back from end-of-season games in Florida. While driving on I-95 North outside of Savannah, the team’s bus was pulled over for driving in the left lane on the interstate. Delaware State is a Historically Black University, and the driver and most of the students were Black.