50 States

50 States: Georgia

By Jon Young

50 States: Georgia

Medical: Limited CBD oil only
Recreational: No
Decriminalized: No

July 18, 2018: A jury in Laurens County has acquitted Javonnie McCoy for growing cannabis and possessing drug-related objects even though the defendant had already pleaded guilty. McCoy, who faced a felony charge, explained that he consumed cannabis to manage his chronic pain, which stemmed from a physical assault he suffered in 2003. Nevertheless, the jury defied state and federal law by declaring him innocent. 

What's Past Is Prologue

Georgia will not be the next state to legalize recreational cannabis. In fact, a recent ranking by 24/7 Wall St., a financial news and opinion company, the Peach State is the third-least likely in the entire country to legalize recreational cannabis based on Georgia’s draconian drug laws and arrest rates, coming in behind Alabama and Arkansas.

For now, the fight is on to expand the very limited medical cannabidiol (CBD) oil law passed in 2015, known as Haleigh’s Hope Act, which allows those with one of eight specific ailments to register and obtain a medical cannabis card that allows use of the low-THC CBD-oil.

But, like many of the 11 other states that have legalized limited CBD oil treatments, Haleigh’s Hope Act failed to create a clear legal path to obtaining the oil.

"It's a big problem because right now I either have to go to Colorado or find any kind of creative ways to get it, which are not always 100 percent legal under federal law,” said Sebastien Cotte, whose son suffers from mitochondrial disease, according to Fox 5 Atlanta.

The Cottes are one of several families urging lawmakers to allow in-state cultivation and distribution. A new bill, House Bill 722, introduced by Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), would expand Haleigh’s Hope Act to include a number of other ailments as well as create up to six state-licensed and heavily regulated facilities to produce medical cannabis in-state.

His bill, modeled after Minnesota’s strict medical cannabis law, would address concerns from law enforcement and other government officials that allowing production would lead to illicit distribution for recreational purposes. In Minnesota, every cannabis seed, plant and bottle of medicine is tracked and accounted for, with more security than even casinos, Peake said, according to The Telegraph.

"Any piece of legislation faces its challenges and this one will face some huge challenges as well, but I'm optimistic that we can address the concerns that law enforcement has expressed, the issues that the Governor has had as well, too," Rep. Peake said. "I think we can provide a compelling argument to the Governor and my colleagues that this is the logical next step for hurting Georgians here in Georgia."

Georgians strongly support the expansion of Haleigh’s Hope Act, with 84.5 percent in favor of allowing in-state cultivation and distribution, according to a poll by Georgians for Freedom in Healthcare, but state lawmakers are still hesitant. This comes even as trials conducted by Dr. Yong Park, the neurologist leading the tests for Georgia Regents University’s Medical College of Georgia, have shown that children who have been suffering from severe epilepsy have seen a 60 percent decrease in seizures, with nine percent completely seizure free, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

But after a recent vote on Crossover Day, the deadline for a bill to pass at least one legislative chamber, state lawmakers passed Peake’s bill after the House Judiciary Committee watered it down by not including the legal growth, distribution or sale within the state of Georgia. Several more conditions are now allowed to apply for access to medical cannabis, but obtaining it will still be a legal grey area. However, with the passage of the bill in the House coming after a 152-8 vote in favor of expanding Haleigh’s Hope Act, support for even more reform may just be a matter of time. For now, it just needs to pass the Senate.

House Bill 722 isn’t the only bill concerning cannabis on the docket this year. Another bill sponsored by Senator Harold Jones II would end the felony charge for possession and reduce it to a misdemeanor.

Currently, possession of under an ounce of cannabis could get you a year in prison and $1,000 in fines. Possession of more than an ounce is a felony with a minimum of one year in prison (up to 10 years) and $5,000 in fines.

Senate Bill 254 would not legalize the possession or selling of marijuana,” said Sen. Harold Jones II, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But the legislation would eliminate the severe penalties that can come with a felony arrest and conviction, such as the suspension of voting rights and loss of eligibility for food stamps.”

On the recreational front, voters in Georgia are split, according to a poll conducted by Survey USA, with 46 percent opposed and 45 percent for the legalization of recreational cannabis. But according to Republican strategist Brian Robinson, Georgia isn’t quite ready for full on legalization.

“We're not in a place yet where Republicans can run in a primary on legalizing marijuana and win their nomination,” Robinson said. “Gov. Deal is not in favor of recreational marijuana, he's made that very clear—so we're still a long ways off in Georgia but public sentiment is moving really quickly.”

With 2016 bringing the possible expansion of Georgia’s medical cannabis law and growing voter support of cannabis reform, it seems to be only a matter of time before the residents of Georgia are free to choose their own approach to cannabis use.

Photo credit: Unsplash


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