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.
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.
Leesburg, Georgia | Chance Henry is a 12-year-old boy living in Leesburg, Georgia, about 200 miles south of Atlanta. He began having seizures soon after he was born, around the six week mark. At years old, Chances mother estimates he has suffered from around 3,000 to 4,000 seizures in his life. Frustrated with expensive and ineffective medicines, Chase and his mother are looking to non-psychoactive CBD oil derived from the cannabis plant for treatment.
However, in the state of Georgia, the medicine that could help to improve Chance’s life remains illegal. Just this week Governor Nathan Deal all but threw away a proposed medical marijuana bill in the state. Rep. Allen Peake will be establishing a new bill that would allow possession of CBD oil in the future; that is if residents had a way to legally grow cannabis and extract the oils.
For now, Chance’s only option for legal treatment is the slew of up to 15 prescription pills he takes per day. His mother Traci is working furiously find a way for Chance to access the CBD oil that he desperately needs. Traci says, “It’s very hard, because I know the side effects to them. I don’t even see sometimes how he functions, but he’s always smiling, he’s a loving child.”
Chance’s mother says that his worst day resulted in 26 seizures within a 24 hour period. “The side effects are dizziness, nausea. We have to have him tested yearly for liver damage, kidney damage. And with the cannabis oil there are no side effects,” Traci says.
She began researching the life-saving cannabis oil around 6 months ago and is still waiting for the medicine. “I just never thought it was attainable. I didn’t know until I really started researching that in 24 states, it’s legal.” Traci isn’t alone in her search for a treatment, as many as 150,000 residents in the state are afflicted by epilepsy.
Traci and Chance have a long road ahead of them to pass this much needed, life-saving legislation. Support is growing in the state for access to the non-psychoactive CBD oil, but legislation is slow to catch up. Meanwhile organizations like Georgia Hope are doing what they can to increase exposure to the issue. Measures to help Chance and other children like him are will within reach, but it’s up to lawmakers use compassion and reason to pass new legislation.
If you’re a Georgia resident and would like to make a difference, you can email Governor Nathan Deal here.
Yesterday Georgia’s Democratic Senator Curt Thompson introduced bills that would legalize both medical and recreational marijuana for the state. The first bill, SB6, would allow adults aged 21 and over to purchase and possess recreational marijuana. The bill doesn’t stop there either. The proposed legislation would also tax the drug and push the proceeds towards education and transportation infrastructure in a 50-50 split.
SB7 was proposed in conjunction with SB6, and would allow the use of medical marijuana for debilitating medical conditions like cancer, HIV, and other debilitating medical conditions. Along with allowing the use of medical marijuana, the bill also addresses safe access to the medicine including licensing process for dispensaries and patients.
“During the 2015 legislative session, we will have the opportunity to provide our doctors with an additional tool by legalizing marijuana for medical use,” Senator Thompson said. The majority of Georgia voters are supportive of medical marijuana according to a recent poll by WSB-TV of Atlanta. Of 750 registered Georgia voters, 54% were in favor of medical marijuana.
Aside from medical benefits for patients in need, the legalization could start to turn around the long-standing racial disparity prevalent in Georgia marijuana arrests. In Fulton County (Atlanta), over 87% of marijuana arrests are black according to the ACLU.
As societal changes sweep the nation, Georgia could be next in the forefront of the marijuana debate. These bills will undoubtedly receive pushback from both Georgia voters and politicians in early 2015 and it will remain to be seen whether proponents can gain traction. One thing is certain; there is a lot at stake for the nearly 10 million Georgia residents.
Photo Credit: scmikeburton