By Tyree Brown
Over 1100 pounds of marijuana could be grown on the University of Georgia campus.
On April 17, 2019, the Georgia Hope Act was signed by Governor Brian Kemp making Georgia the 34th state to allow the production of medical marijuana.
The new bill would let six producers cultivate medical cannabis preparations in Georgia. Two universities would also become producing sites including The University of Georgia.
Under the Georgia Hope Act, The University of Georgia is qualified to grow medicinal marijuana for research purposes. Research would determine the effects and properties of cannabinoids, the active chemical extracted for medical marijuana.
There are several steps the university would have to take in order produce cannabis for research said Bradford Davis, Busbee Chair in Public Policy in the Department of Public Administration and Policy at the University of Georgia.
Davis got into the medical cannabis business after his daughter sought out a Ph.D. in medical marijuana research. Davis and his daughter worked together to conduct a study linking medical marijuana to declines in opioid use.
“The average cannabis plant has thousands of cannabinoids, which provides an immense opportunity for research,” said Davis.
A seven-member Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission will be appointed to license and regulate medical cannabis producers. That commission could license the university should they choose to participate directly, or by working with a private contractor.
A New Bill for Georgia
This isn’t the first time the Georgia Assembly has confronted medicinal marijuana regulation. In 2015, the state passed a bill allowing registered patients to possess up to 20 fluid ounces of medicinal cannabis oil. However, the law didn’t include any access to the oils.
The Georgia Hope Act would replace the 2015 bill, adding despenceries within the state of Georgia.
Lobbyist Jacob Eassa has worked closely with the developing bill and was surprised to see how much support is received from Georgia Representatives. “It’s time we received a controlled system for people in need,” said Easa.
Eassa is a long time member of Compassionate GA, an advocacy group for medical marijuana. He along with other CompassionateGA members spent years organizing plans and communicating with top Georgia politicians to get the bill past the House of Representatives.
One of Eassa’s biggest concerns is to give help to those that are in need of the drug’s sedative properties.
“There are cancer patients, veterans, and thousands of other suffering people who could benefit from this bill,” said Easa. “It doesn’t make sense to have a system in place, but it doesn’t help people.”
The Need For Research
So what took so long for Georgia to have an effective medical marijuana bill in Georgia? Georgia Lobbyist and Former State Representative Wesley Dunn blames a lack of research.
As former Virginia farmer, Dunn first considered medical cannabis as a growing industry that would need regulation. His reasoning changed once he began speaking to those who benefited from the drug.
“Our biggest obstacle in getting patients help is ignorance,” said Dunn. “ A lot of past misconceptions and beliefs keeps us from gaining the information we need on the drug”
According to the bill, the oil administered can have up to 5% THC, which is what gives people the “high” feeling. Dunn explains that if scientist were able to conduct more research, this number would not be so fixed. He says that this number should be determined based on the patient’s affliction, seeing that every condition is different.
Marijuana is currently recognized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s or DEA, as a Schedule I controlled substance, defined as having a “high potential for abuse, no current accepted medicinal use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety data for use of the treatment under medical supervision”
As of now, the DEA has only authorized one grower. The University of Mississippi grows marijuana under contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The university’s research includes studies of the botanical, pharmacological and chemical properties of the cannabis plant.
With with only $150,000 awarded to the program annually for cannabis research, Dunn claims that this just isn’t enough compared to all the good medical marijuana could do.
The Future for Marijuana
The Commission will begin the long process of determining who to give production licenses too. They will option out two class one license which allows growers to have 100,000 acres of indoor cultivation and four class two licenses that allow 50,000 acres.
The State Board of Pharmacy would develop a dispensing license for a pharmacy to dispense low-THC oil to patients.
Producers could start growing for needy patients by January 1, 2020.