As a beacon of hope for patients in Georgia, an executive director has finally been appointed by the Access to Medical Cannabis Commission to oversee the next stages of development for the state’s medical marijuana program.
Andrew Turnage, who has experience as executive director for both the Georgia State Board of Cosmetology and Barbers and the Georgia Board of Nursing, was selected over four other applicants.
“We have one goal, and that’s to get oil for families in need,” Turnage said to Valdosta Today. “Think about families that have struggled to have their basic needs met during this pandemic. We have families in Georgia that have struggled for years to get this basic need, low-THC oil, and our task will be to ensure that they receive it.”
Turnage came highly recommended for the position by The Goodwin Group, an executive recruiting firm that reportedly consulted with cannabis industry experts before making the recommendation.
“Mr. Turnage not only has the experience The Goodwin Group recommended, but specifically in the area of state licensing, which is essential to getting us up and running and producing low-THC oil,” said the commission’s chairman and principal surgeon at the Atlanta Neurological & Spine Institute, Dr. Christopher Edwards.
Turnage will be responsible for establishing the selection process for licensing cultivation and distribution businesses as well as lab-testing and system regulations. At least six cultivation licenses are expected to be awarded, but the timeline for when the legal distribution system is expected to be in place has not been released.
According to the program’s website, conditions that qualify a person to be able to apply for the Georgia Medical Marijuana Program include:
- 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
A Brief History
It all began in 2015 when Georgia lawmakers approved legislation to allow registered medical marijuana patients in the state to possess and use up to 20 fluid ounces of low-THC cannabis oil. In order to qualify as “low-THC” the oil must contain no more than 5 percent of the psychoactive cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Last year, the state appointed members to the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, and an executive director was just elected by that board in May of 2020.
In five years of program development, patients still have no way to legally purchase the oil within state lines. Registered patients and caregivers are forced to obtain the medicine on the black market, where it is neither regulated nor lab-tested, or buy it in another state, breaking federal laws to drive it across state lines.
Georgia legislators have been aware all along that a system for distribution needed to be established. In 2017, a top Georgia lawmaker even made headlines when he admitted to smuggling medical marijuana into the state for patients who were suffering.
The chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant that translate into the effects felt, and deliver medicinal value to the consumer, are called cannabinoids. Cannabinoids, like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), work synergistically in a process known as the entourage effect. Simply put, this means that these cannabinoids are more effective when they are able to work as a team than when they are used separately. This is why many proponents insist that whole plant medicine or full spectrum cannabis oils are more effective treatment options than CBD oil that contains 5 percent or less THC. For many patients, low-THC oil and CBD isolates simply are not enough to treat debilitating symptoms.
Now that Georgia is one step closer to providing patients with safe, reliable access to medical cannabis oil, many hope the next step will be expanding the law to include different forms, more methods of delivery, and higher potency options.
Despite the uphill battle it’s been for cannabis legalization in Michigan, good news looms on the not-so-distant horizon. Not only does it look promising that the petitions currently circulating will generate more than enough signatures for the proposal to make recreational cannabis legal, Michigan residents also might have the privilege to possess larger quantities of it than any other state.
What’s Normal in Other States?
In the United States, there are 8 states in which cannabis is legal for recreational use. The normal amount individuals are allowed to carry is 1 ounce. According to Mark Kleiman, a professor at NYU and expert on public policy in regards to cannabis, the cap of 1 ounce is sufficient. Michigan, however, would join the likes of Maine, where individuals are allowed to carry up to 2.5 ounces on their person.
The other way in which Michigan will stand out is that persons 21 and over will also be able to have up to 10 ounces of cannabis at home. While this is also true in Massachusetts, the limit for the amount of cannabis individuals can carry there is only 1 ounce.
Defending the seemingly large quantity of cannabis that Michigan residents would be allowed to carry, Josh Hovey, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, stated there are legitimate reasons behind it. For example, a commonality many Michiganders have is travel within the state. For those who have cabins or other properties where they will spend lengths of time for hunting or recreation, it seems fair to Hovey that those individuals should be able to carry an amount of cannabis that will sustain them.
Still, there are other opponents. Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that advocates against cannabis, strongly opposes the amount that Michigan residents could carry. Executive VP and director of government relations for the group, Jeffrey Zinsmeister, contends that there’s no good reason anyone would need to carry 2.5 ounces of cannabis for personal use. The amount, he argues, is excessive.
Standing Strong Against Opposition
Despite criticism, Hovey insists that all components of the law were heavily considered, taking into account the input from those who would be involved in Michigan’s cannabis industry. From stakeholders in the cannabis business, organizations involved in the movement, and Michigan voters, Hovey is confident that their input, combined with observing the best practices from other states with legal cannabis, has yielded an initiative that stands a strong chance of becoming law.
Backing up his confidence is the swift rate at which the petition to legalize cannabis in Michigan is acquiring signatures. Having nearly reached the halfway mark of the required amount of signatures needed to get on the 2018 ballot in just two months, the odds of legalization look promising. Registered voters still have almost 4 months left to sign the petition if they haven’t already. At this point, the momentum is still building so it will almost certainly be in the affirmative that voters will approve the legislation being presented.
In Washington, Sam Mendez, an attorney with C3 Law Group (specializing in cannabis law), supports the notion that legalization leads to fewer arrests, lifting a weight off law enforcement. He also points out that other substances that are more dangerous than cannabis, such as alcohol, have no limits regarding how much an individual can possess. Needless to say, his statements fall in line with supporting the limits established in the initiative that Hovey is certain will attain the approval of voters.
Even though on the federal level cannabis remains illegal and the DEA classifies it a schedule 1 drug, if Michigan votes to legalize cannabis, they will join the ranks of states taking a stand against prohibition, furthering the national legalization movement.
Looking to expand one of the strictest medical marijuana programs in the nation, Minnesota has now legalized treatment for PTSD as the state continues to look for new ways to apply the benefits of cannabis to the most in need. Even though medical cannabis is still in an early stage when it comes to treating PTSD, insiders are optimistic that the expansion will directly assist suffering Minnesotans who have struggled to find relief with more conventional forms of treatment. While cannabis treatment for PTSD remains complicated, particularly for military veterans due to stringent federal laws, Minnesota could also prove to be a valuable case study on how other states can expand coverage to attack a widespread problem throughout the country.
Although anti-cannabis advocates insist there is still a lack of evidence for successful PTSD treatment, Minnesota moved forward with the change to the medical cannabis program thanks to rigorous input from both field experts and the public. The move will also be able to directly test cannabis’ effectiveness with those who suffer from PTSD, potentially offering significant insight into a relatively dark area of marijuana research. In fact, it was only in April of 2016 that the DEA introduced its first controlled study of cannabis treatment for PTSD sufferers, pointing to the necessity of further study for vulnerable Americans. Despite effecting about eight million people in the U.S. each year, post traumatic stress disorder still doesn’t have a pharmaceutical treatment that is designed specifically to treat the often-debilitating symptoms.
Medical Cannabis for PTSD
Minnesota will now join more than 20 other states that have already legalized cannabis treatment for PTSD, further providing real-life case studies for an area that has often been driven by speculation. Just this year, a growing and diverse list of states have added PTSD to their medical marijuana programs, including states like Ohio, Arkansas, Florida, North Dakota, New Jersey, and more. In addition to directly addressing PTSD symptoms, medical experts are also enthused about the ability to use the benefits of medical marijuana to assist with negative symptoms from other medications typically used to treat PTSD.
It’s also worth noting that Minnesota is easily one of the strictest states in the country when it comes to usage of medical marijuana, as the program only started in 2014 and has expanded very deliberately since then. As of now, Minnesota only has two different licensed medical marijuana cultivators and has significant limitations on the forms that cannabis can be ingested, which is why the recent change could turn out to be such a crucial development for cannabis advocates. If very cautious states like Minnesota can have success with treating PTSD, other hesitant states will have an ideal blueprint of how to proceed into previously unchartered territory.
Following the successful push for PTSD treatments, advocates are also looking to expand treatments for other patients in need. Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and autism are some of the other diseases and disorders that are being pushed as areas where patients might benefit, opening up the door to further expansions both in Minnesota and abroad. As of now, there is a fairly limited number of patients registered to take advantage of the expansion in the state, although that could quickly shift as the program grows in the coming years.
But even though Minnesota’s medical cannabis expansion could prove to be a major step forward for patients with PTSD, it also highlights one of the major conflicts between state and federal law. As states continue to explore legalization for recreational use, those relying on marijuana for medical application could be left out in the cold due to overriding federal law – particularly for veterans who suffer from PTSD. Because of federal law, cannabis treatment for PTSD cannot be covered by the VA (Veterans Affairs), forcing patients to pay completely out-of-pocket or forgo treatment. However, as cannabis programs continue to expand to cover PTSD around the country, the pressure will likely build to overhaul federal marijuana laws that are now widely viewed as outdated and counterproductive.
Thanks to the progressive steps taken by over half of the states in the US, cannabis is legal for medicinal or recreational use. However, a few states lag behind and individuals caught with cannabis face fines and prison sentences that highlight the divide between what’s legal and what’s not. Whether you live in one of the states with harsh cannabis laws or plan on visiting, think twice; you don’t want to get caught with cannabis in these 4 states.
With its neighbor states having all adopted some form of cannabis friendly policies, the cheese stands alone. In Wisconsin, there are no laws protecting individuals who use cannabis for medicinal purposes and certainly not for recreational use. If caught with cannabis, unless it’s a first offense (which is a misdemeanor and $1,000 fine), be aware that you’ll be charged with a felony, not to mention a hefty fine of anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000. While a bill to legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use is on its third draft by Representative Melissa Sargent, it’s hard to say whether or not the third time will be a charm.
Paying the harsh price in Wisconsin is Rodney Hudson. An unfortunate victim of the racial disparity that impacts African-Americans (they are 4 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana crimes than others), Rodney is a convicted felon because he has more than one charge for possession of cannabis. He may be fortunate that he’s not behind bars, but bearing a record with a felony cuts deeply into his quality of life. There is no financial aid available to convicted felons who want to further their educations, their drivers licenses are suspended for six months (a significant hindrance in finding work), and they will have a harder time finding employment. What’s worse is that while more states are legalizing cannabis use, arrests for cannabis related crimes in Wisconsin continue to rise.
No ifs, ands, or buts about it…don’t get caught with cannabis in Tennessee. While the first couple of minor offenses warrant a misdemeanor charge, minimal fines of up to $500 and the possibility of one year behind bars, punishments increase depending on the charge. For amounts above one half ounce, felony charges apply with an exorbitant fine of up to $500,000 and depending on the charge, up to 60 years in prison.
Nashville and Memphis decriminalized cannabis over a year ago, giving police the ability to hand out citations as they saw fit. Unfortunately, the Tennessee House of Representatives recently passed a bill to nullify the laws that decriminalized it. This seems a regressive move, considering that both Nashville and Memphis are tourist hot spots.
Another state that’s unfriendly towards cannabis is Oklahoma. Individuals with more than a couple of minor offenses will face felony charges, exorbitant fines up to $500,000 and a possible life sentence in prison. While the governor there recently modified laws to allow CBD oil, no changes were made to allow the medicinal or recreational use of cannabis.
Having faced the unpleasant tune of life without parole, William Dufries was charged with transporting over sixty pounds of marijuana in Oklahoma in 2003. For a non-violent offense, the life without parole price tag is a hefty price to pay when violent offenders face less time behind bars. Dufries is not the only one; however, after his appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case, he has some hope for freedom. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has commuted his sentence, among a few others, to life in prison, providing the possibility of parole. Still, it will be a long and hard fight for Dufries and others charged with non-violent drug crimes who sit in prison and wait.
Unlike the song, Alabama isn’t so sweet when home is life behind bars because of cannabis related drug charges. Fines top out at $200,000 and for habitual offenders, even non-violent offenders, life in prison is a stark possibility.
Consider the cases of Richard Bolden and Carroll Brooker. Both non-violent offenders are serving life sentences in prison because they were busted with marijuana. Bolden, a father in his 40’s, and Brooker, in his 70’s, sit and wait. Neither feels their sentence is fair, especially considering how cannabis laws are changing all over the country. While they sit in prison until they die, others around the nation are free to use, transport, and sell cannabis without fear of such life-altering consequences.
For those living in states with relaxed cannabis laws, it’s hard to imaging paying such a heavy price as those who live in these 4 states do. While the wind of change is blowing, it’s hard to say how soon its message will reach the ears of those who pull the strings. With any luck, the progress that rest of the nation is making in regards to marijuana laws will rub off on them.
There is one age-old adage that is as important as ever when it comes to the expanding legality of cannabis in the United States: follow the money. With Colorado recently announcing $500 million in tax revenue from medical and recreational cannabis since 2014, the pioneering state continues to showcase the substantial upside for state governments often short on public funding. As Colorado spreads out the cannabis revenue to assist adoption centers, youth programs and more, the rest of the country is now able to see a real-world blueprint of how cannabis legalization can benefit a state’s public welfare and budgetary outlook, further depleting the case for the continued prohibition of marijuana.
Although the tax revenue issue has long been a driving force for legalization, the announcement made by lobbying firm VS Strategies is still nothing short of a major step forward for cannabis advocates. More than anything, it demonstrates that the potential of cannabis revenue is no longer theoretical, prompting Strategies VS Strategies partner Brian Vincente to point out that “Colorado continues to be an example for the world” when it comes to the upside of cannabis. While many other states have been on the fence about legalization for some time now, Colorado appears to be significantly reaping the benefits for taking the plunge as other states preferred a wait-and-see approach.
The impact on the budget has also been nothing short of profound according to Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Democrat lawmaker who appeared with Vincente at the press conference to make the announcement. To Singer, “marijuana has become the thread that holds our state budget together,” offering insight into the enormous amount of relief the revenue has brought to the otherwise extremely tight state budget.
While some detractors have pointed out that cannabis revenue won’t solely solve the state’s long-term budget challenges, the immediate impact of the revenue has been very significant, particularly on the local level. One of the biggest benefactors of the revenue, the Tony Grampsas Youth Services Program, has already taken in about $3 million and has committed hundreds of thousands in grants to Aurora-based non-profit Adoption Exchange. Other funds are already being disseminated to school construction projects, substance abuse programs and youth mentoring services, further undercutting critics who insist the negatives of legalization outweigh the public benefit.
The amount of tax revenue from cannabis also continues to increase as the industry gets more and more established throughout the state. In 2014, roughly $76 million in revenue was taken in from cannabis, although that number has since grown to more than $200 million in 2016. By the end of 2017, yearly revenues are expected to surpass a quarter of a billion dollars, demonstrating that the money is pouring in every bit as fast as Colorado lawmakers might have hoped when pressing for legalization.
The announcement also comes at a crucial time when other states are getting ready for their own legalization pushes during upcoming elections. A diverse set of large states, including Florida, Michigan and Arizona, are already planning on putting legalization of recreational cannabis on the ballot for the 2018 mid-terms, with other states also expected to join as well. For fiscally troubled states that are still undecided about whether to move forward with legalization, Colorado’s robust showcase of cannabis tax revenue will only fuel the claims that supporting marijuana reform is becoming a budgetary imperative.
As Colorado pushes forward along with other early-adoption states like Washington, Alaska and Oregon, the raw numbers continue to undermine the opaque arguments of detractors like Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who claims Colorado loses $3.3 billion annually due to lowered productivity since cannabis legalization. While Sabet and other cannabis critics continue to utilize ambiguous and theoretical stats, the case for cannabis legalization continues to strengthen as the cut-and-dry budgetary impacts of cannabis tax revenue come into focus. Although each state will face its own challenges when it comes to implementing regulations and taxing standards for cannabis, Colorado is proving to be an essential trendsetter that will only embolden cannabis advocates to attempt to duplicate the success of the Centennial State.
While the United States continues to mainstream cannabis from state to state, marijuana reform has also taken hold all over the world, with many different countries starting the process of rewriting archaic cannabis laws. One country that is now well ahead of the curve is Uruguay, which just became the very first country in the world to fully regulate the cannabis industry. Following a landmark bill in 2013 and a cautious implementation, certified Uruguayan pharmacies can now sell cannabis directly to adults with the full backing of the law, with prices expected to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $6.5 per five grams.
Not long after Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, Uruguay was able to hobble together an impressive alliance that helped back the bill to legalize marijuana throughout the country. Although the bill was contentious, the group made up of human rights organizations, medical professionals, lawyers and prominent actors was able to win enough public support to help usher the bill through, effectively bringing marijuana out of the shadows throughout the country.
The Retail Market
In the years after the monumental move, however, the implementation has been slow and deliberate, as lawmakers have carefully pieced together an intricate program based on fairly strict regulation. Utilizing fingerprint technology, the government is allowing sales to anyone over 18 as long as they register with the government. While only an estimated 5,000 Uruguayans registered at the time that the announcement was made in mid-July, the numbers are expected to grow substantially as cannabis begins to hit shelves all over the country. The major step forward also fits a wide-spanning trend in Latin America, as popular opinion throughout the diverse region has started to get more favorable in recent years. In addition to Uruguay, both Mexico and Chile have shown clear majority support for legalized marijuana, marking significant shifts from prior public opinion.
But even though the breakthrough for cannabis in Uruguay is certainly significant, it also is unlikely to serve as much of a blueprint for states moving towards legalization in the United States. Aiming specifically to avoid becoming known as a cannabis tourist destination, Uruguay is allowing two different strains to be purchased by registered citizens only and shows no signs of letting cannabis blossom into a major industry. On the opposite side of the spectrum, states like Colorado have become widely known as cannabis tourist hot spots and recently unveiled more than $500 million in tax revenue already. At this point, it’s improbable that a state would adopt similar regulations as Uruguay, although the symbolic implications could still be profound throughout the world as attitudes on cannabis continue to shift.
Where Uruguay could have similarity to cannabis legalization in the United States is actually outside of the traditional shops. Although what citizens are allowed to buy directly from a regular store will be tightly controlled, there appears to be significantly more wiggle room elsewhere, as registered adults can now grow up to six plants or join cannabis clubs of 45 members or less. So even if Uruguay will keep the lid on what you can actually purchase from one of the country’s 16 pharmacies, cannabis is now extremely easy to access throughout the country for citizens.
More than anything, the legalization and regulation of marijuana in Uruguay shows that the process – difficult as it might be – is doable on a large scale, further aiding cannabis advocates ready to move forward in other parts of the world. Although every country (or state) will have a variety of different considerations for how to best regulate marijuana, pioneering countries like Uruguay offer an outline on how to proceed into the unchartered territory of a complex issue. As the above-board cannabis industry begins to take shape in Uruguay and other countries like Canada, the domino effect of legalizing cannabis appears to be accelerating.