Compromise reached to expand Georgia’s medical marijuana law

Lawmakers reached a compromise Thursday over how to expand Georgia’s medical marijuana law, clearing a pathway for legislation to pass as soon as next week.

The agreement over Senate Bill 16 would add six conditions eligible for treatment with a limited form of cannabis oil allowed in Georgia to include Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS, autism, epidermolysis bullosa, peripheral neuropathy and Tourette’s syndrome. It would additionally allow use of the oil for patients in hospice care, according to both state Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, and state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon.

It would remove the state’s one-year residency requirement. It would change now-quarterly reporting requirements for doctors overseeing patients using the oil to twice a year. And it would add a 45-day reciprocity window for people who come to Georgia from another state. They would be covered by Georgia’s law as as long as they have a medical marijuana registration card issued by another state, a condition that’s allowed to be treated in Georgia and a form of the oil that is allowed here.

“It’s not everything I would have wanted,” said Peake, who authored the bill two years ago legalizing medical marijuana in Georgia and has advocated for in-state cultivation. “But there are a lot of folks who will potentially benefit. So I’m grateful to the Senate for coming to an agreement.”

Importantly for Peake and expansion advocates, the agreement would keep the maximum allowable THC percentage of the oil at 5 percent.

THC is the component in marijuana that makes its users high. The Senate initially proposed dropping the limit to 3 percent, something lawmakers said was a precaution despite no reported problems with the higher percentage from state public health officials and law enforcement agencies. Officials said last month that more than 1,300 patients have qualified for the medical marijuana registry, with nearly 300 doctors actively monitoring their use of the cannabis oil that is allowed here

“I’m good with it,” said Watson, SB 16’s sponsor. That bill, in addition to its proposal to lower the allowable THC, originally would have only added autism to the state’s list of conditions and illnesses eligible for treatment with the oil. “It’s been a long process. We’re in agreement, and I look forward to the House passing it and the Senate agreeing.”

A House committee is expected to take up the proposed compromise Friday. Passage would set up the bill for a floor vote by next week.

Under Georgia’s 2015 law, patients and, in the case of children, families who register with the state are allowed to possess up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil to treat severe forms of eight specific illnesses, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

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