Greetings from under the Gold Dome! 

As we return to Capitol Hill for the sixth week of session, Friday, Feb. 22, will mark the official halfway point of this year’s legislative session. Last week, we passed several pieces of legislation on the House floor which address rural, military, public safety and health care initiatives. Notably, last week brought to fruition House Bill 324, also known as Georgia’s Hope Act.

Over the last few years, we have been committed to finding a solution to bring natural and effective pain relief to the many Georgians suffering from debilitating pain.

In April of 2015, Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law House Bill 1 which legalized a limited form of medical cannabis oil in Georgia. The law, called Haleigh’s Hope Act, granted immunity from prosecution for individuals certified as eligible by their physicians for possession of up to 20 ounces of low THC cannabis oil to treat severe illnesses such as seizure disorders, cancer and sickle cell disease. Although this legislation was a step in the right direction, a major problem remained — how could patients legally obtain the medicine without breaking federal law?

Last year, we made even more headway as House Bill 65 established the Joint Study Commission on Low THC Medical Oil Access. We met several times during 2018 to examine in-state access issues; security and control from acquisition and planting of seeds to final destruction of unused portions of the plant; quality control of the manufacturing process; and dispensing the final product. The commission also explored ways to ensure proper security safeguards and systems for evaluating the qualifications of potential licensees, as well as how to implement a plan ensuring that low THC oil is affordable and readily available statewide to properly registered patients and caregivers.

As a result of our Commission’s hard work, along with the assistance of many families and organizations working alongside us, I was thrilled to file House Bill 324, Georgia’s Hope Act. We believe this legislation is the solution to allowing Georgia patients to legally obtain the much-needed oil. The legislation proposes the following:

• Establishes an in-state cultivation and distribution program to give registered Georgia patients access to safe, regulated medical cannabis products they are already allowed to legally possess with their Low THC Oil Registry card;

• Creates an 11-member “Low THC Oil License Oversight Board” as a division of the Department of Public Health to review applications and select manufacturers and distributors.

• Creates an “Office of Low THC Oil Control” as a division of the Department of Public Health to oversee, control, and supervise the entire program.

• Establishes five Class 1 licenses. Those licenses allow a large company to grow, process and manufacture medical cannabis oil in Georgia.

• Establishes five Class 2 licenses. Those licenses allow a smaller company to grow, process and manufacture medical cannabis oil in Georgia, with a limit of 20,000 square feet for cultivation.

• Establishes 10 Safe Access Retail licenses. Those licenses allow a company to distribute medical cannabis oil in Georgia to registered patients.

• Requires all products to undergo third-party safety and efficacy testing.

Requires an approval system that tracks all plants and all products from seed to sale.

• Requires 24/7 secured facilities with video monitoring.

• Establishes timelines to ensure licenses are approved by Jan. 1, 2020, and products are available to patients within 12 months from license date.

• Focuses on getting approved patients access to medicine, while also preventing products from getting to those not allowed to have it.

Allowance of licensed, closely regulated, medical cannabis growth within our state solves the major problem of legal access. Families should not be forced to break federal law in order to receive a legal form of medicine.

Let me also be very clear — this bill in no way, shape or form supports the legalization of recreational cannabis use. However, we have seen and heard firsthand the positive effects this medicine has had for those suffering from seizures and other debilitating conditions. I am of the firm belief that when God created this world, he did so by giving us everything we need, naturally. This plant can relieve those suffering without the addictive qualities or overdose dangers of regularly and overly prescribed opioids.

I cannot tell you how humbling it was to have so many on Capitol Hill show their support as we officially filed the bill last week. To see the relief and excitement of those who have been fighting for this legislation over the last several years was completely overwhelming and I thank them for their unwavering support in our efforts.

State Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, represents House District 67 which includes parts of Paulding and Douglas counties. He can be contacted at 404-463-8143 or at micah.gravley@house.ga.gov.

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