Why Georgia is Not Set to Become the 24th Medical Marijuana State

UPDATE (April 16, 2015): Governor Nathan Deal has signed HB1 into law, making Georgia the 13th CBD state.


With the passage of HB1 in Georgia this week, the state will become the 36th state with some form of medical marijuana protection for patients, but the law falls short of making the state the 24th "medical marijuana state," in spite of stories to the contrary. The act was approved by both the Georgia House and Senate earlier this week and now moves to the desk of Gov. Nathan Deal where it is expected to be signed soon.

While definitions on what is and is not a medical marijuana state are clearly subjective, the newly passed Georgia law does not meet ASA's general requirements. While the bill does provide legal protections for possession and use for therapeutic purposes by patients, legal protections alone do not sufficiently meet the standard. Maryland had similar legal protections from prosecution for over 10 years with a wider range of conditions than HB1, yet nobody considered that affirmative defense law to make Maryland a true medical marijuana state. It only became recognized as such a state in 2014, when it passed a comprehensive program with access to state regulated dispensaries. Because there is no legal means for patients to purchase or grow their own medicine, Georgia patients must travel out of state to acquire their medicine, limiting access to far away places like Colorado or Maine. 

Additionally, the restrictions on the forms by which patients may administer their medicine under HB1 means that patients may not inhale cannabis either through combustion or vaporization. This is the most common way patients use their medicine and is the easiest to titrate, meaning it's the easier for patients to control their dosage level. Finally, HB1 places a cap on THC that will mean patients who need medical marijuana and derived products rich in THC will be denied their appropriate medical option. The 5% cap on THC is among the best ceilings (at least as CBD laws go), but it is still too restrictive for many in the patient community to receive adequate medical benefit. But HB1 does have some positive features.

To be clear, ASA's position that Georgia is not a medical marijuana state is not a slight on the efforts of the patient advocates for fought for the bill, nor is it meant to discredit bill sponsor Rep. Allen Peake. It was abundantly clear that the Georgia General Assembly was not going to pass a more comprehensive bill than HB1 in 2015, and Rep. Peake and the advocates on the ground in Georgia had to muster a great deal of energy just to keep the bill from being as limited as the other CBD laws in the country. Notably, the bill provides legal protections for not just seizure disorders, but 7 other conditions as well, making it the most comprehensive set of qualifying conditions for a CBD law. Included are:

(A) Cancer, when such diagnosis is end stage or the treatment produces related wasting 110 illness, recalcitrant nausea and vomiting;

(B) Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, when such diagnosis is severe or end stage; 

(C) Seizure disorders related to diagnosis of epilepsy or trauma related head injuries; 

(D) Multiple sclerosis, when such diagnosis is severe or end stage;  

(E) Crohn's disease; 

(F) Mitochondrial disease; 

(G) Parkinson's disease, when such diagnosis is severe or end stage; or 

(H) Sickle cell disease, when such diagnosis is severe or end stage

While HB1 does not quite meet specs to be considered a medical marijuana state, it is truly a major step forward for the State of Georgia. ASA looks forward to working with the GA General Assembly to make the necessary improvements in 2016 so that Georgia will be a true medical marijuana state that all of its patients can feel good about. But for now, it will be considered the best of the CBD law states.