Georgia Governor signs SB 195 to expand the medical cannabis program

After a long legacy of a medical cannabis program that paid little attention to patients, the Georgia governor finally signed SB 195 – a law that will expand the medical cannabis program to license retailers of low-THC cannabis

Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed Senate Law 195 last week. Now up to 30 state-licensed companies can sell high-CBD cannabis as long as they keep THC to a minimum. SB 195 officially comes into force on July 1st.

While medical cannabis was first adopted in Georgia in 2015, it only exempted patients from prosecution as long as they needed the cannabis for verified medical reasons and as long as the cannabis was in the form of oil extracts with 5 percent or less THC. Actually, all it did was decriminalize ownership. There was no legal way for medical patients to obtain cannabis oil without crossing state lines.

And there is already a customer base. Currently, around 15,000 residents are registered to qualify to use high-CBD and low-THC oils, just waiting for a legal route to purchase cannabis in their home state.

The way to the SB 195

In 2019 House Bill 325, also known as the Georgia’s Hope Act, set up a regulatory commission designed to oversee the industry when it finally goes live. While establishing this framework was a big step, it still didn’t go far enough to create a legal industry.

Now there is finally an official government industry that is starting to care for patients. SB 195 finally goes one step further and enables those who have production licenses to own up to five licenses for pharmacies. So far there have been around 70 applicants and so far only six companies in total have been selected to start manufacturing.

These applicants will be reviewed by the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, which will decide who will receive these coveted licenses by late spring or early summer. Then the selected companies will be given a year to open their stores and supply cannabis to thousands of registered patients waiting for a product.

“The goal is to ensure that patients have access to the highest quality medicines we can get from these manufacturing facilities in our state,” said Andrew Turnage, executive director of the commission. “I am very impressed with the quality and caliber of the applicants.”

The companies that applied to set up the Commission in 2019 submitted business plans that included strategies for tracking seed sales, production and business operations. It is up to the commission to decide which ones make the cut.

Those who get a license then have to follow strict guidelines to be compliant. Cannabis legally sold in Georgia cannot contain more than 5 percent THC, and a total of 400,000 indoor growing spaces are permitted across the state. There’s a lot of competition over who will get the licenses, but the biggest focus right now is on regulatory compliance.

“The only thing we should think about is how to get the safest oil and the best medicine to patients in Georgia,” said Micah Gravley, Republican of Douglasville, who helped launch the program. “The licensees should be the six companies that are able to manufacture a laboratory-tested, trustworthy and safe oil and have a tested and proven product in other states.”

The limited number of licenses is a compromise originally reached between the House and the Senate when cannabis was legalized. This is to ensure that patient care is a top priority and medical cannabis is made available, but also to prevent the illegal spread of cannabis.

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