On Thursday, the Georgia Senate passed a measure that would restrict the state’s already limited medical marijuana program. Senate Bill 16 would reduce the maximum amount of THC in cannabis oil from 5 percent to 3 percent, a move that could prove harmful to a handful of families and children.    

Sponsored by Sen. Ben Watson, the bill passed on a 41-12 vote, sending it to the state House. Supporters of the measure claim that lowering the level of THC will place Georgia on the same level as other states that have similarly restrictive medical cannabis programs. Although their have been no reported problems with Georgia’s current low-THC program, Senators have expressed concern that 5 percent is still too high. 

Advocates and doctors have staunchly opposed the new measure, claiming that some patients simply respond better to higher percentage THC cannabis oil. For instance, one “rescue nasal spray” widely used to treat seizures in children contains 5 percent THC, and would be made illegal under the newly proposed bill.

Sen. Watson, a medical doctor, has also called on the DEA to reclassify cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug to allow for more adequate research on the plant’s medical value.  

First implemented in 2015, Georgia’s medical marijuana program allows possession of up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil to treat eight specific illnesses, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy. While SB16 will slash the amount of THC allowed in oil, it will also add autism as an qualifying condition.   

The state House is also considering passage of House Bill 65 and House Resolution 36, legislature recently authored by Republican State Rep. Alan Peake. These joint measures would expand the medical program and allow cannabis to be grown and sold in Georgia. If passed, the law would be placed on the 2018 ballot and decided by voters. 

But with the passage of Senate Bill 16, the state now faces the choice of upgrading or downsizing their medical marijuana program. There are currently more than a dozen states with low-THC programs that allow 1 percent or lower, but this route severely limits the overall amount of patients who can benefit from medical cannabis.