In 2015, Governor Nathan Deal signed Haleigh’s Hope Act into law, authorizing the use of low THC cannabis oil to patients with qualifying debilitating medical conditions. However, the new Georgia weed laws did not legalize the sale or cultivation of cannabis, leaving Georgia patients with the option to a.) continue to suffer from intractable illnesses that cannabis could help were it available, b.) move to a state with legal medicinal marijuana, or c.) travel to states with legal marijuana, purchase their medicine, and break Federal and state law by crossing state lines to bring that medicine home.
The options got better on April 17, 2019, when Governor Brian Kemp signed House Bill 324 into law. This law authorizes the regulated production and distribution of low THC oils to registered patients in Georgia. The law authorizes the University of Georgia, Fort Valley State University, and 6 private companies to cultivate and process low THC oil.
Georgia’s weed laws are strict and severely limit cannabis use. The Georgia Department of Health concedes this, stating
“Georgia’s law is much more limited than some other states’ medical marijuana laws. For example, it does not legalize the sale or possession of marijuana in leaf form and it does not authorize the production or sale of food products infused with low THC oil or the ingestion of low THC oil through vapor. It does not authorize physicians to prescribe marijuana for medical use. It is intended solely to protect qualified persons from criminal prosecution for possessing low THC oil for medicinal purposes.”
The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission is still in the process of establishing a regulatory framework and licensing producers. Until the medical marijuana program rolls out, here is what we know.
Qualifying Debilitating Medical Conditions
Adult patients and the legal guardians of minor patients with one or more of the following conditions may be eligible to participate in Georgia’s Low THC Oil Registry:
- Cancer, when such diagnosis is end stage or the treatment produces related wasting illness or recalcitrant nausea and vomiting
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, when such diagnosis is severe or end-stage
- Seizure disorders related to diagnosis of epilepsy or trauma related head injuries
- Multiple sclerosis, when such diagnosis is severe or end-stage
- Crohn’s disease
- Mitochondrial disease
- Parkinson’s disease, when such diagnosis is severe or end-stage
- Sickle cell disease, when such diagnosis is severe or end-stage
- Tourette’s syndrome, when such syndrome is diagnosed as severe
- Autism spectrum disorder, when (a) patient is 18 years of age or more, or (b) patient is less than 18 years of age and diagnosed with severe autism
- Epidermolysis bullosa
- Alzheimer’s disease, when such disease is severe or end-stage
- AIDS when such syndrome is severe or end-stage
- Peripheral neuropathy, when symptoms are severe or end-stage
- Patient is in hospice program, either as inpatient or outpatient
- Intractable pain
- Post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from direct exposure to or witnessing of a trauma for a patient who is at least 18 years of age
Applying for a Medical Marijuana Card in Georgia
The most important step in obtaining a Low THC Oil Registry Card is finding a physician who can confirm your diagnosis and who is willing to recommend cannabis as a treatment for it. The physician must meet the following requirements to comply with the medical marijuana regulations:
- Have an active MD or DO license in good standing with the Georgia Composite Medical Board
- Have a bona fide doctor-patient relationship with the patient seeking low THC oil
- Be treating the patient for the low THC oil-treatable condition specified in the physician certification form
- Conduct a physical exam and review the patient’s medical history to confirm the diagnosis of a debilitating medical condition. This process must be completed each time the patient renews their Low THC Registry Card.
- Keep a copy of the physician certification in the patient’s medical records.
The physician, not the patient, is responsible for completing and submitting the application to the Georgia Department of Public Health. The application is comprised of two parts: a waiver that must be signed by the patient and the physician, and the physician certification form. This form confirms the patient’s diagnosis and the recommendation that it be treated with low THC oil.
The Georgia Department of Health will review the application, and if it is approved, create a Low THC Oil registry card for the patient. Once the card has been printed, a representative from the Department of Health will contact the patient to select which of the 20 Public Health Offices located throughout the state is the most convenient location for the patient to retrieve their card. The representative will then contact the patient once the card is ready to be picked up.
Low THC Registry Card Cost and Renewal
Patients will have to pay $25 for each new card. Whether it is the patient’s first card, a renewal, or a replacement for a lost card, the fee is $25.
The cards remain valid for 2 years from the issue date. It takes about 15 business days for a renewal card to be processed and picked up, so patients should begin applying for a renewal at least 15 days before their current card expires. In order to renew, patients will need to consult with their physician again to confirm or update their status on the registry.
Possession and Purchasing Limits
Low THC oil will only legally be available from state-licensed pharmacies. This includes pharmacy locations such as Walgreens, Walmart, and CVS.
Registered patients will be able to purchase up to 20 fluid ounces of low THC oil at a time. Being in possession of more than this quantity can lead to jail time and thousands of dollars in fines.
The only form of cannabis that is legal for consumption is low THC oil. The law defines this as an extracted cannabis oil containing less than 5 percent THC.
It is illegal for anyone to cultivate cannabis for medicinal or personal use. The only authorized entities to grow cannabis are those licensed by the state.