Georgia’s half-baked medical pot program expanded to PTSD, pain

Matt Saintsing
June 05, 2018 - 2:08 pm

Photo by C.M. Guerrero/Miami Herald/TNS

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Georgia is home to 13 military installations, more than 690,000 veterans, and 4,000 medical marijuana card holders. And last month, the Governor signed a new bill into law that expands the state’s evolving medical marijuana program to include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and intractable pain, to the list of qualifying ailments.

But don’t be fooled, that’s not exactly the green light suffering veterans are looking for.

House Bill 65 extends the state’s humble medical cannabis program to include these two conditions for treatment by low-THC marijuana oil, but precludes patients from getting access to cannabis in any other form.

The bill did "some good things" by adding PTSD and intractable pain to the state's medical cannabis program, says Joshua Littrell an Air Force veteran and Founder/CEO of Veterans for Cannabis.

“What it did not do is the one thing we needed it to do, and that’s bring cultivation. So, once veterans get their card, they then have to break federal law to bring it into Georgia." 

That's just the start of what Littrell says is an immense policy gap. 

Georgia’s medical cannabis program dates back to 2015, but unlike 21 other states (and the District of Columbia), Marijuana has not been decriminalized in the state. The possession of one ounce of cannabis can result in a misdemeanor offense, up to one year of incarceration and a fine of $1,000.

So, cardholders of the state-sanctioned medical program have no legal pathway to get the oil, because in Georgia, no one is allowed to grow the plant or transport it from one place to another.

And since cannabis is still a schedule I drug federally, importing it from other states is very much out of the question.

Since there is no legal way for patients to get the medical marijuana product Georgia says they can have, the state is effectively forcing patients to break the law to access cannabis on the black market. 

The issue of pot policy in Georgia is s a polarizing issue. 

House Rep. David Clark, a Republican from Buford, Ga, is a former U.S. Army Ranger who served previously in Afghanistan and strongly supported the bill. But in March, he had some choice words for President of the Senate Casey Cagle, regarding the state Senate’s previous failure to take up the bill.

Clark said Cagle was “corrupt” and “playing games” with veterans’ healthcare by opposing the expansion, according to Politically Georgia. He also said that approving the medical marijuana legislation for use by PTSD patients could be a lifesaver for some Georgia’s veterans.

“If you can’t lead the Senate, then you sure can’t lead a state,” said Clark. “There are lives at stake. This isn’t a game…People are dying.”

That comment was surely a dig at Cagle, Georgia’s Lt. Governor and the front runner for the Republican nomination for governor.

Still, the Peach State has been easing up on pot penalties for some time. Atlanta, the State’s capital and largest city, decriminalized the plant last fall. That means that Atlantans cannot be jailed for minor cannabis possession, and the maximum fine is just $75.

Since then, State lawmakers have introduced legislation that would extend decriminalization statewide to no avail. Part of that has to do with Georgia’s politics. Unlike the entire West Coast, voters cannot legalize cannabis through the ballot box.

Instead, legalization would have to come from lawmakers, which seems less than likely with a conservative Republican majority in the State’s Senate and House. Just this year, Vermont helped blaze a trail when they became the first state to legalize pot through their legislature.

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