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Georgia Expands Its Medical Cannabis Program, But Patients Still Lose

An increasing number of Georgia residents are now eligible to use cannabis oil treatments, but the state still restricts patients from buying or growing any type of medical marijuana.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal just signed a bill to expand the state's medical cannabis program, adding PTSD and intractable pain to the list of qualifying conditions.

The state's original medical cannabis law, enacted in 2015, was extremely restrictive, allowing patients with a handful of qualifying conditions to use cannabis oils containing 3% or lower THC content.

The new law will significantly expand the number of Georgians who are allowed access to MMJ, but the expansion is bittersweet for patients, considering that the state does not provide a legal means for patients to purchase the cannabis oils they are legally allowed to use.

It is currently illegal to grow, process, or transport medical cannabis in any form in the Peach Tree State, effectively preventing any legal sales of the medicine. Patients who cannot wait for lawmakers to resolve the issue must import it illegally, running the risk of getting busted under federal drug trafficking laws. State Rep. Allan Peake, the driving force behind all of the state's recent medical cannabis legislation, said that he has personally been importing cannabis oils into the state to distribute the medicine to patients in need.

Last year, state legislators expanded the state's medical marijuana program by adding AIDS, Alzheimer's, autism, Tourette's, and several other ailments to the list of qualifying conditions. The new law, which goes into effect on July 1st, expands the pool of eligible patients even more, but the lack of a legal supply of medicine has kept enrollment in the program exceptionally low. There are currently only around 4,000 patients on the state registry, compared to over 200,000 in Michigan, and over a million in California.

Rep. Peake sponsored a second bill in the state House that would have legalized the cultivation, processing, and distribution of cannabis for the purpose of making these oil-based treatments available within the state. Earlier this year, Governor Deal unequivocally announced that he would not support the legislation, and support for the bill dwindled to the point that it did not even come before the full House for a vote.

This year marks the end of Deal's final term as governor, however, and the bill is expected to be revived during next year's legislative session. "I guess it will be an issue that the next governor will have to decide, and I fully expect it to be a huge issue in the upcoming election," Peake said to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Unfortunately it will also be Peake's last term in office, and it remains to be seen whether another legislator is willing to take up the torch and continue the fight for the state's medical cannabis program.

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