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Two bills that would drastically change Georgia’s medical marijuana program advance

Medical marijuana advocates say the passage of either bill would quicken the process to allow cannabis oil into the hands of patients with chronic illnesses.
Published: Feb. 25, 2022 at 7:23 PM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - A big step today in the push for medical marijuana in Georgia after two medical marijuana bills passed separate House Committees, on Tuesday.

Republican state representative Sharon Cooper’s bill would double the number of medical marijuana companies allowed to operate in Georgia, as well as move the Low THC Patient Registry from the Department of Public Health to the Georgia Composite Medical Board. Her bill passed through the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Republican Chairman Alan Powell’s bill would triple the number of medical marijuana companies allowed to operate in Georgia, as well as call on the state to operate its medical marijuana program in a more transparent way, that would enable the community to access public records. His bill passed through the Regulated Industries Committee.

Now, both bills head to the House Rules Committee. Only one will move forward to the floor for a vote by the House of Representatives.

Georgia Rep. Sharon Cooper and Republican Chairman Alan Powell
Georgia Rep. Sharon Cooper and Republican Chairman Alan Powell(WGCL)

Medical marijuana advocates say the passage of either bill would allow cannabis oil into the hands of patients that have been waiting seven years - since cannabis oil was first legalized in Georgia, for people with chronic illness.

In 2019, a state-appointed commission was tasked with licensing six cannabis producers – and in 2021, those companies were chosen -- but as we’ve reported, that process has been met with heavy criticism, over a dozen lawsuits protests and a federal lawsuit. The six companies that were selected cannot start growing medical marijuana until the protests are resolved.

Because both of the bills recently introduced would increase the number of cannabis producers to include some of those losing bidders, lawmakers hope the losing bidders would drop their protests. In turn, that could mean a quicker rollout for Georgia patients.

A Closer Look at House Bill 1453

Republican Representative Sharon Cooper and Representative Micah Gravely introduced House Bill 1453, Friday morning.

“This is meant to get the original six awards up and running so they can start growing and producing medicine, and that patients in this state can have access here in Georgia to medical cannabis oil” said Rep. Micah Gravley (R) District 67.

Highlights of the bill include:

  • Moving the Low THC Patient Registry from the Department of Public Health to the Georgia Composite Medical Board. Advocates say this will enhance the patient safety of Georgia’s medical cannabis program because it will provide physician oversight of certifying physicians. This will also allow physicians to track patient outcomes to the seeds planted in the ground
  • Requiring the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission to contract with a third party to accredit independent laboratories. Advocates say this will ensure all samples will be tested using the same standards and protocols, and these samples will produce the same results regardless of which laboratory is used
  • Establish a queue of proposals submitted for production licenses tied to the number of patients in the registries. The queue would be established based on the proposals submitted by applicants for Class 1 & Class 2 production licenses on the scores determined by the commission, from highest score to lowest score, last summer.

The current six companies who have already received “Notice of Intent to Award” by the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission (GMCC) would be unaffected.

The GMCC would be able to issue up to four Class 1 production licenses (up from two) and up to eight Class 2 production licenses (up from four).

Additional licenses could be added as the Low THC Oil Patient Registry continues to grow based on increments of 50,000 patients.

As of November 2021, there were 21,299 patients in the Low THC Oil Patient Registry.

The Medical Association of Georgia (MAG) which has 8,400 physician members across the state also supports HB 1453.

“We ought to apply all the guardrails we use for regular medications to this medical treatment,” said Dr. Kelly DeGraffenreid, an Atlanta family physician, and member of MAG. “We should apply all the learnings and standards for medicine to anything we use as a medical treatment, including medical marijuana.”

A Closer Look at House Bill 1400

Republican Chairman Alan Powell introduced House Bill 1400, two weeks ago. It cleared its first committee on a unanimous vote.

It’s a different bill - with the same goal.

“It’s not a matter of what I want to do. It’s a matter of necessity,” Chairman Powell said. “The legislature passed the cannabis oil bill for disabled children and adults three years ago, and apparently it was a flawed system.”

Highlights of the bill include:

  • The General Assembly would establish a Medical Cannabis Commission Oversight Committee with two members appointed by the Lieutenant Governor and two members appointed by the House of Representatives. Committee members would be permitted to inspect any production facility upon request and after reasonable notice is provided to the production facility
  • The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission must contract with qualified third party consultants to assist the commission in developing evaluation criteria, in reviewing and evaluating proposals, etc.
  • More transparency. All working papers, recorded information, documents, and copies produced by, obtained by, or disclosed to The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission would be subject to open record laws.

That means the public – and the media – would be able to access more records, that we have not able to previously access.

“It’s a way of creating a situation to clean up the judicial solution and to make it a legislative solution,” Chairman Alan Powell, District 32. "

The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission could issue up to nine Class 1 production licenses (up from two) and up to 19 Class 2 production licenses (up from four). However, the aggregate number of Class 1 and Class 2 production licenses awarded or issued would not exceed 22 production licenses

Impact

At the heart of all of this – families like Sebastian Cotte and his son Jagger.

“We are not asking for the moon. We are asking for access like so many other states have,” Sebastian Cotte said.

Jagger Cotte
Jagger Cotte(Sebastien Cotte)

Jagger Cotte suffers from a rare neurological disorder called Leigh’s Disease.

“He is nonverbal, never spoke in his life, he cannot hold his head up, he cannot walk, he is 100% handicapped,” Cotte explained.

Doctors said he would not live past his 4th birthday. Today, Jagger is 11 years old. His dad, Sebastien, credits high CBD, low THC cannabis oil as the key to his progress.

“Right away, we saw some changes but the one thing I will never forget - Jagger had not smiled for a year before that - After two or three days on CBD, Jagger smiled again,” Cotte added.

Cotte moved from Atlanta to Colorado in 2014 so Jagger could be treated with cannabis oil. At that time, it was illegal to use cannabis for medicinal purposes in Georgia, while in Colorado, cannabis became fully legal in 2012. Now, medicinal cannabis is legal in Georgia, but there is still no place to buy it in the state. So, Cotte buys it from other states.

He’s been advocating for medical marijuana for years. In 2013, he and his wife even co-founded Georgia’s Hope, a group of mostly parents who fight for access to legal cannabis for their children.

Cotte says he’d be happy if either bill passes – he just wants medicine for his son.

“I’m still hopeful we’re gonna get it but it’s just taking forever,” Cotte said.

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