Last year, just before it was time to vote in the mayoral election, residents of Atlanta got a nice, sticky surprise courtesy of former mayoral candidate Kwanza Hall and the Atlanta City Council. Per the “decriminalization” bill, Ordinance 17-O-1152, weed was about to be way less of a problem in the eyes of the law. But some lingering confusion remained about what exactly that meant… possibly because everybody in town lit up immediately after hearing the news.
But now that it’s festival season again, it’s a good time to examine our current marijuana laws and figure out what’s legal, and what’s smoke. And in this case, ironically, you don’t want that smoke. So here’s a state of the state on marijuana legalization, with all of your questions about cannabis and Georgia law answered.
So, is weed legal in Atlanta or what?
No. Our city council’s “decriminalization” bill does not make marijuana legal. We should all be clear that “decriminalized” kinda means nothing until the US attorney general changes his mind about weed, and well, don’t wait on that.
A press release immediately following former mayor Kasim Reed’s signing of the ordinance says the following: “The ordinance does not legalize or decriminalize possession of marijuana. It addresses the disparity in the punishment for possession. Research shows that white and black Americans use marijuana at similar levels, yet black Americans are arrested and charged at higher rates.” So the city is concerned with equality here, and focusing on violent crimes rather than funny smelling smoke that makes people smile, so good for them.
The ordinance basically gives the Municipal Court direction not to put someone in jail or charge them more than $75 if that individual is caught with “1 ounce or less” of marijuana. That means you’re still breaking the law if you have weed on your persons. If you’re caught, what happens between you and law enforcement could depend on a lot of other factors, such as whether or not you’re actually in the City of Atlanta, or if you’re caught by an APD officer or a state trooper (if you’re in ATL proper and it’s a city cop, you may be more likely to get leniency). The officer has the power to decide whether or not to charge you under municipal or state law, and state law remains the same: six months in jail or up to a $1,000 fine, depending on the judge.
Harsh! Is it legal anywhere in Georgia?
It is legal for “qualified persons” to possess “up to 20 fluid ounces of low THC oil” in Georgia. That means medical marijuana for people with very specific ailments throughout the state.
But recreational marijuana remains illegal throughout the State of Georgia, and the United States of America, at the federal level. Though a growing number of states including Washington, California, and Colorado have legalized recreational usage of marijuana, that’s all state law, which is trumped by whatever Washington, DC says. And laws don’t pass quickly, especially in Georgia, and especially laws concerning marijuana.
Can I get a prescription? How?
You can (maybe!). You have to be on the statewide registry to legally possess low-THC cannabis oil. There are two forms that must be filled out and sent in: One’s a waiver that the applicant and a physician must sign, and the other is a physician certification form, which a doctor fills out. The doc submits the form, and if the state approves everything, the applicant will be notified that they can purchase a Low THC Oil Registry Card for $25 from a nearby public health office.
Cool, so what are the approved medical conditions?
After Governor Nathan Deal signed the law permitting medical marijuana in 2015, it initially included “end stage” cancer and “related wasting illness, recalcitrant nausea and vomiting,” along with certain seizure disorders, Crohn’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, mitochondrial disease, and “severe or end stage” MS, Parkinson’s, or sickle cell disease.
In 2017, Governor Nathan Deal signed into law Senate Bill 16, which took effect last July and added six other medical conditions to the list, including “severe” Tourette’s syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS at “severe or end stage,” autism spectrum disorder for patients 18 years old and up, and severe autism if the patient is under 18, “severe or end stage” peripheral neuropathy, epidermolysis bullosa (a genetic skin condition where blisters and erosion form from injury and minor skin irritation), and physician-authorized hospice patients. Though it expanded the amount of people who could qualify to possess the oil, it also weakened the legally allowed concentration of THC in cannabis oil from 5% to 3%. The law giveth; the law taketh away.
How exactly do doctors qualify to prescribe medical marijuana?
Doctors must have an active MD or DO license in good standing with the Georgia Composite Medical Board. Next, they must have a doctor-patient relationship when certifying an individual as needing low THC oil, and must be treating an individual for the specific condition requiring such treatment. They must conduct a physical exam and review patient history to certify the patient has a qualifying debilitating medical condition (and conduct a new physical exam every year “as part of the patient’s renewal process” and keep a copy of the physician certification in the patient’s medical record. Oh, and they probably shouldn’t let people call them “Dr. Feelgood” or anything stupid like that.
Is there anywhere I can buy medical marijuana in Georgia?
That’s a big nope. According to the state, “The new law does not address how low THC oil is made, purchased or shipped. The law only creates a procedure to ensure qualified persons will be protected from prosecution for having it in their possession. The Georgia Department of Public Health does not prescribe or dispense low THC oil.” So, hopefully you’ve got a guy.
Will my insurance pay for medical marijuana?
Woof. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia and Piedmont Healthcare are beefing over contracts right now, and Governor Deal had to jump in and cover state employees during the gap! So, no. No they will not.
Can I grow my own medical marijuana?
Not unless you’re cool with breaking the law and possibly being arrested and put in jail. Right now the law allows those on the registry to possess it, but does not provide a legal way to purchase or attain it. According to The Telegraph in Macon, Gov. Deal thinks the state would lose control of the crop if we started cultivating it. I hear someone out there saying, “But isn’t it good to lose control sometimes?” And I wonder if the voice is coming from the same place as that pungent smell of weed.
I’ve always wanted to be a business owner. Can I open a dispensary?
Do yourself a favor and don’t open a dispensary just yet. We’ll check back with you when things look different. But yeah, not in 2018. Maybe start drawing blueprints or something.
Is recreational weed coming to Georgia soon… or ever?
Look, John Boehner just joined a major marijuana company. Atlanta’s “decriminalization” is at least a step forward with cultural acceptance, and adds momentum to the larger statewide fight that will have to happen in order for legalization to occur. But with Clarkston, Atlanta, and now the new city of South Fulton voting to minimize fines and remove jail time, you can smell change in the wind. Or is that something else??