After a long legacy of having a medical cannabis program that barely took care of patients, the governor of Georgia has finally signed SB 195—a law that will expand the medical cannabis program to license retailers of low-THC cannabis
Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed Senate Bill 195 into law last week, and now, up to 30 state-licensed businesses can become sellers of high-CBD cannabis, as long as they keep the THC to a minimum. SB 195 will officially go into effect July 1.
While medical cannabis first got passed in Georgia in 2015, it just exempted patients from criminal prosecution as long as they needed the cannabis for verified medical reasons, and as long as the cannabis possessed was in the form of oil extracts at 5 percent or less THC. Effectively, all it did was decriminalize possession. Without crossing state lines, there was no legal way for medical patients to obtain cannabis oil.
And there is already a customer base in place. As of now, about 15,000 residents are registered to qualify for the use of high-CBD, low-THC oils, and are just waiting for a legal way to purchase cannabis in their home state.
The Road Leading To SB 195
In 2019, House Bill 325, also known as the Georgia’s Hope Act, came up with a regulatory commission that would oversee the industry when it did finally get off the ground. However, while putting that framework in place was a big step, it still didn’t take things far enough and create a legal industry.
Now, there is finally an official state industry to begin serving patients. SB 195 finally takes things a step further and allows those who have production licenses to also possess up to five licenses for dispensaries. There are about 70 applicants so far, and in total, only six companies will be chosen to start manufacturing so far.
These applicants will be reviewed by the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, who will decide who gets these coveted licenses by late spring or early summer. Then, the companies who are chosen will be given one year to open for business and begin providing cannabis to the thousands or registered patients who are waiting for product.
“The goal is to ensure that patients have access to the highest-quality medicine that we can arrive at in our state with these production facilities,” said Andrew Turnage, the commission’s executive director. “I’m very impressed with the quality and caliber of applicants.”
The companies that applied back in 2019, when the commission was created, also submitted business plans that included strategies for seed-to-sale tracking, production and business operations. It is up to the commission to decide which ones make the cut.
Those who do get licensed will then have to follow strict guidelines in order to be compliant. Cannabis legally sold in Georgia can’t have any more than 5 percent THC, and a total of 400,000 indoor growing space will be allowed throughout the entire state. There is much competition as to who will get the licenses, but the biggest focus right now is on compliance.
“The only thing we should be thinking about is how we can get the safest oil and the best medicine to Georgia patients,” said state Rep. Micah Gravley, a Republican from Douglasville who sponsored legislation starting the program. “The licensees should be the six companies who are capable of creating a lab-tested, trusted, safe oil, and have a tested and proven product in other states.”
The limited number of licenses is a compromise that was originally reached between the House and the Senate when cannabis was legalized. The idea is to make sure that patient care is top priority and that medical cannabis is made available, but also to prevent the illegal distribution of cannabis.
Addison Herron-Wheeler is co-publisher and owner of OUT FRONT Magazine, and web editor of New Noise Magazine. She covers cannabis and heavy metal, and is author of Wicked Woman: Women in Metal from the 1960s to Now and Respirator, a collection of short stories.