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.
Georgia father Dale Jackson is speaking out in support of a bill that would legalize medical cannabis, in the hopes that cannabis oil could ease the suffering of his autistic child.
“Cannabis oil is not potentially going to cure my son of autism but it’s one more thing that I as a parent want to do to try to improve his life,”
Jackson said of his 7-year-old son, Colin.
Jackson has emerged as an outspoken advocate of Georgia House Bill 7-22, which would enable patients suffering from a number of ailments –including cancer and PTSD, among others– to receive medical cannabis oil.
A stripped-down medical cannabis law, passed by the legislature last year, dictates that only several hundred patients may legally use medical cannabis; however, they are forced to purchase their product out of state, a regulation that would force would-be patients and their guardians to illegally transport the product across state lines.
“After they got done removing everything in the bill last year, it was one step above worthless,”
Jackson stated. “But it did help people, and I’m glad for the 400 people on the state’s medical marijuana registry it did help … now we’re trying to pass a bill that’s worthwhile, that’s more than just a warm and fuzzy press conference for the governor.”
Jackson is not the first advocate in the state to step forward in favor of wider access to medical cannabis – a former Air Force engineer, Joshua Littrell, has appeared in a new PSA supporting the prescription of medical cannabis to veterans battling PTSD.
photo credit: WRBL
A prominent Georgia politician has announced that he supports a new bill that would clear the way for the in-state growth and sale of medical cannabis.
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston made clear that he supports the bill that has been pre-filed by Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon).
Rep. Peake –who last year led a successful push in the state legislature to legalize adult patients or the parents of child patients to possess cannabis concentrate in the form of oil– has modeled his bill after a similar law in Minnesota, which he has dubbed the strictest in the country. Under his current proposal, a minimum of two and a maximum of six in-state manufacturers would be allowed to produce the oil. A tracking system would be devised to monitor the oil from cultivation and production through to retail sale.
The bill would also greatly expand the numbers of conditions that would enable patients to qualify for the medical cannabis program. Georgia’s current law includes those suffering from epilepsy and seizure disorders, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, and if the new law is approved, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Tourette’s syndrome, and Alzheimer’s disease would also qualify.
“I took careful consideration when drafting this legislation to fully address the concerns that have been expressed by Governor Deal and Georgia’s law enforcement community,”
Rep. Peake has stated.
“I am optimistic that the details of this bill will satisfy those concerns.”
Rep. Peake appears to be on the side of prevailing public opinion: A recent poll conducted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that seventy-two percent of Georgians believe the state should pave the way for a system under which medical cannabis could be harvested and distributed.
Advocacy for medical marijuana is about to get a fresh face on its front lines.
Former Air Force engineer Joshua Littrell will appear in a new public service announcement (PSA) to urge Georgians to support an expansion of the state’s current medical marijuana laws.
In the PSA, Littrell points out the need to include veterans battling PTSD and others who claim that pharmaceuticals are insufficient to address their medical needs. “Many of us that served came back suffering from PTSD,” says Littrell in the ad.
“It’s an injustice that the only treatment options are pharmaceutical medications that are often ineffective for the pain and trauma many of us experienced every single day.”
Littrell –who also serves as the CEO of the advocacy group Veterans for Cannabis— also expresses support in the ad for the use of medical cannabis on the part of those with chronic pain and serious diseases, such as cancer. He cites the example of Brian and Audra Underwood, whose young son, Reid, suffers from an incurable and devastating skin illness known as Epidermolysis Bullosa.
“I”m fighting for families like the Underwoods that must administer potentially life-threatening painkillers to their son,”
“I’m fighting for veterans, but also for cancer patients, children and adults suffering from seizures, Georgians with unbearable chronic pain and many others who cant find relief with pharmaceutical medications. For us, medical cannabis works.
Current state law only allows for eight specific conditions to be treated through the use of medical cannabis; however, those conditions must only be treated using a particular kind of low-THC cannabis oil, which must be approved by a doctor and by the state. An added hurdle for patients is that in-state cultivation of the product remains illegal, leaving many patients to fend for themselves in obtaining it.
The ad is part of an initiative spearheaded by Georgia State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) calling for the state’s laws to be broadened to include more patients. He is expected to pre-file legislation this Wednesday to take action on the issue.
The issue of medical cannabis has been met with disagreement among the higher echelons of the Georgia government. The Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis last month opted not to allow the growth of medical cannabis in the state, citing federal law banning the practice. The decision echoed the viewpoint of the state’s governor, Nathan Deal (R), who does not support in-state cultivation.