The marijuana laws in Georgia are quickly changing. Although it is still illegal to grow and possess any amount of marijuana, with violators subject to stiff penalties,Georgia has recently laid the groundwork for medical marijuana and industrial hemp. Both programs are still being developed and new regulations are in the pipeline.
Since April 2015, Georgia has allowed some individuals to possess up to 20 fluid ounces of “low THC oil” for medical applications under the Haleigh’s Hope Act. Yet eligible patients had to buy low THC oil in other states because the Haleigh’s Hope Act did not authorize the production or sale of low THC oil.
That changed in April 2019 with the Georgia Hope Act, which allows six private companies and two public universities to produce, distribute, and sell low THC oil. Georgia authorized the industrial production of hemp in 2019. The Georgia Hemp Farming Act tasks the Georgia Department of Agriculture (“GDA”) with regulating the hemp industry. Since then, GDA has implemented an extensive licensing and permitting regime for growers and processors.
Haleigh’s Hope Act, O.C.G.A. §§ 16-12-190 et seq., allows certain patients to possess up to 20 ounces of “low THC oil.” The Act defines “low THC oil” as a cannabidiol-based oil with less than five percent by weight of THC and that does not have any plant material with the external morphological features of the Cannabis plant.
Who Can Possess Low THC Oil?
Only authorized patients who are registered with the Georgia Department of Public Health (“DPH”) can lawfully possess up to 20 ounces of low THC oil. A patient is “authorized” if a physician has certified him or her as suffering from one of the medical conditions listed in O.C.G.A. § 31-2A-18(a)(3).
There are strict criminal penalties for the unauthorized possession of low THC oil. Possession by a patient, even if “authorized,” of more than 20 ounces of low THC oil is a felony, with punishment ranging from one-year imprisonment and $50,000 fine to 20 years imprisonment and $1 million fine. O.C.G.A. § 16-12-191(c)-(d). Possessing marijuana in leaf form is still illegal. Finally, patients cannot ingest low THC oil in a manner that uses a heating element, power source, electronic circuit, or other electronic, chemical, or mechanical means.
Regulation of Healthcare Providers
The Georgia Composite Medical Board (“Medical Board”) and DPH regulate how physicians can add patients to the Low THC Oil Registry. See 360-36-.01 et seq. Physicians can only register patients on DPH’s registry if they have a bona fide doctor-patient relationship, and if they certify that the patient suffers from one of the conditions listed in O.C.G.A. § 31-2A-18(a)(3). Additionally, the certifying physician must be treating the patient for that specific condition or in a hospice program. O.C.G.A. § 31-2A-18(d). Finally, the physician must have given the patient a Medical Board-approved waiver form that the patient has signed.
After a patient completes the waiver form, the physician must certify that they have a bona fide physician-patient relationship and that the patient is eligible for low THC oil.
Regulation of Producers, Distributors, and Dispensers
The Georgia Hope Act tasks the newly created Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission (“Commission”) with regulating the production, distribution, and dispensing of low THC oil. O.C.G.A. § 16-12-202. The Commission only recently appointed an executive director in May 2020, and has yet to promulgate any implementing regulations or launch the permit application process.
Besides the Commission, the Georgia State Board of Pharmacy is tasked with developing annual, nontransferable licenses for pharmacies and retail outlets to dispense low THC oil to registered patients.
The Georgia Hemp Farming Act creates a licensing/permitting process administered by the GDA for hemp growers and processors. See O.C.G.A. §§ 2-23-1 et seq. GDA has promulgated regulations governing the Georgia hemp program, and started accepting applications for hemp processing permits and hemp growing licenses starting March 1, 2020.