Georgians Back Medical Marijuana Expansion

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Photo Credit: BITA HONARVAR

More Georgia voters than ever support changing state law to allow harvesting and distribution of medical marijuana, according to a poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Over three-quarters of those surveyed said Georgia’s medical marijuana program should be expanded, an increase from previous years. This year’s AJC poll showed that 77 percent want greater access to medical marijuana, compared with 71 percent last year and 73 percent in 2016.

Meanwhile, approval of marijuana legalization for recreational use also reached new heights, with 50 percent of respondents backing legalization, compared with 46 percent last year.

Georgia lawmakers are considering legislation this year that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries, which for the first time would give patients a way to buy the drug legally.

Under the state’s current medical marijuana law, it’s legal for registered patients to possess medical marijuana but illegal to buy or distribute it. Patients often obtain medical marijuana from outside Georgia, though federal law bans interstate transport of any form of the drug. There were 3,384 active medical marijuana patients registered with the state as of Jan. 9, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Medical marijuana in Georgia is in the form of cannabis oil that provides patients relief from symptoms but doesn’t give users a high. The General Assembly approved limited medical marijuana use in 2015 for patients with conditions such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

“If we passed a law saying you can use it, it’s reasonable to be able to get it,” said Irma Jones, who lives in the Decatur area and participated in the AJC’s survey. “It only follows logic.”

Police organizations have opposed easing medical marijuana restrictions in Georgia, saying it could lead to public safety hazards and full legalization.

The AJC’s poll of 940 registered Georgia voters was conducted earlier this month by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs. The poll has a margin of error for the total sample of 3.2 percentage points.

Nationwide, 30 states already allow medical marijuana cultivation and distribution. Eight states have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

While most Georgians are comfortable with medical marijuana, they remain divided over whether the government should allow adults to consume it without a physician’s approval.

“If people can get away from prescription medication and getting hooked on that, and have the same relief from marijuana or cannabis oil, that’s a better trade-off,” said Karen Wiseman, a testing coordinator from Atlanta. “I don’t think I would favor legalizing it. … People wouldn’t be responsible with marijuana at their fingertips.”

Vicky Green, who lives in the Acworth area and owns a commercial cleaning service, said the government should treat marijuana like alcohol.

“Marijuana is not near as bad as alcohol,” she said. “It should be legal. I’ve never heard of anyone dropping dead from smoking it.”

Legislation pending in the General Assembly, House Bill 645, would allow up to 10 businesses statewide to distribute medical marijuana oil to registered patients. Up to two businesses would be licensed to cultivate, harvest and produce medical marijuana oil.

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, said the AJC’s poll results confirm his belief that Georgians need a legal way to provide medical marijuana to patients who are already allowed to use it.

“Citizens want us to act, so why not structure something that’s regulated, restricted and provides a safe product for our citizens?” said Peake, the sponsor of HB 645. “Georgians want us to find a solution.”

Georgia should catch up with how other states treat medical marijuana, said Stan Wheeler, a 49-year-old College Park resident. He said in-state cultivation of marijuana is the inevitable next step.

“If Georgia is going to allow for the use of medical marijuana in the state,” Wheeler said, “they should also have the ability to grow and potentially control the distribution in the state.”

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