Questions continue about Ga.’s medical marijuana program after latest bill fails

Published: Apr. 18, 2022 at 6:08 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Medical marijuana is a hot topic in Georgia.

Earlier this month, Georgia lawmakers once again failed to revamp what many describe as the state’s failed medical marijuana program. In 2015, former Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed the Haleigh’s Hope Act into law, legalizing the use of cannabis oil that contains no more than 5% THC. THC is the psychoactive compound in marijuana.

Seven years later, money and lawsuits are still holding things up. The state has not been able to figure out who will produce the oil, or where people can pick it up. Meaning, the more than 22,500 people in Georgia’s Low-THC Oil Registry are still waiting for the medication they’re legally approved to receive.

In 2019, the Georgia General Assembly passed the “Georgia’s Hope Act,” authorizing the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission to oversee the regulated licensing of limited, in-state cultivation, production, manufacturing, and sale of low-THC oil as well as dispensing to registered patients on the state’s registry. Last summer, the commission awarded licenses to 6 companies to grow and manufacture the low-THC oil. But, right after that happened, another two-dozen companies that were not picked sued the commission, leaving production at a stand-still.

Army Veteran Andrew Ramey feels Georgia politicians have let people in need of the oil down.

“It’s very infuriating, especially when my government is doing nothing to help me.”

Ramey said he was diagnosed with PTSD and other physical ailments by the time he medically retired from the military in 2019. Ramey said he proudly served as a helicopter mechanic and crew chief in Afghanistan. He said marijuana helps people like him cope with the trauma they experienced overseas.

“There’s just so many people that it can help, especially when you’ve dealt with dead bodies, people dying in your arms. It really helps,” he said.

State Representative Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville) sponsored one of two bills this year aimed at fast-tracking Georgia’s medical marijuana program. Both bills died in the final hours of the 2022 legislative session.

“It is the epitome of big government and the political process getting in the way of doing something good,” Werkheiser said.

Werkheiser said with the amount of money at stake, the companies vying for those six spots are going to do whatever they can to get approved for production.

“No matter what we do, we’re inviting lawsuits from the people that aren’t going to be happy,” he added.

There is some hope for change - on the federal level. Earlier this month, the U.S. House passed a proposal to legalize marijuana nationwide. But analysts say it faces an uphill climb in the senate. Democrats need 60 votes to pass it in the senate.

Pharmacist turned Georgia Congressman Buddy Carter voted against full legalization.

“I’m in favor of medical marijuana, and the use of marijuana where it can be useful in medicinal purposes. I am adamantly opposed to the recreational use of marijuana,” Carter said.

Ramey said he’s tired of the back and forth. He has a message for state and federal lawmakers.

“Worry about the people. There’s people who can really benefit from this plant, and... it’s up to y’all,” Ramey said.

Just before this story was published, WTOC learned that Governor Kemp is appointing a new Chair to the state’s Medical Cannabis Commission. Kemp’s tapping Sid Johnson to lead the commission going forward. Johnson’s a faculty member at the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

The Governor also announced he’s directing $150,000 from the Governor’s Emergency Fund to the Medical Cannabis Commission. He says the money should be used to speed up the protest hearings by the companies that lost their bids to produce medical marijuana oil here.

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