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
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
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
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.
The parents of 15-year-old David Brill spent almost a week in jail. Their son was taken away for nine weeks. All because they opted to treat David’s epilepsy with marijuana—in violation of Georgia law—when pharmaceuticals failed.
Now that they’ve had their custody restored, the family is considering leaving the state and moving somewhere more friendly to the therapeutic use of cannabis, Matthew and Suzanne Brill told Marijuana Moment in an interview.
But they’re not abandoning their efforts to promote cannabis reform in Georgia, where smokeable marijuana for medical purposes remains illegal.
“We’re not turning backs on the people in need just because there’s a possibility that we’ll leave with our son so that he can be treated now,” Matthew Brill said. “We’re not going to give up the fight.”
“We’re going to push for legalization in the state of Georgia. It has to happen.”
The Brill family’s situation captured national interest after David was put into protective custody in March. His parents were charged with “reckless conduct” over their decision to treat David’s seizures with cannabis, and they were put in jail for six days. They were able to speak with their son only on a limited basis, during phone calls and short visitations.
David told Marijuana Moment that he was “upset” when he was removed from his parents. He’s feeling better now, but emphasized that he’s now required to treat his condition with the same pharmaceuticals that “almost killed me back in December.”
He also said that, while in protective custody, his health problems were ignored when he reported he “wasn’t feeling well,” and that staff members allowed people to “jump me” during his stay. One staff member threatened physical violence against David while he was experiencing a seizure, Suzanne said.
Suzanne also said that her son was separated from his service dog when he was placed in protective custody. The police department placed the dog “in the pound” because authorities claimed “she was not a real seizure dog,” she said.
— Warriors for David: 71 days of childhood (@Warriors4David) June 23, 2018
At a press conference on May 31, Twiggs County Sheriff Darren Mitchum said that the department acted in David’s best interest by removing him from his parents, arguing that “somebody’s gotta stand up for the child’s welfare.”
Just now, Georgia sheriff defends removing teenager from parent’s custody because they let him smoke marijuana — WHICH HELPED HIS SEIZURES:
“Somebody’s gotta stand up for the child’s welfare.”
But earlier this week, a glimmer of hope: a judge granted a protective order that allowed David to return home under conditions agreed upon by both the Brills and Georgia’s Division of Family and Children Services. Suzanne said she was confident that the criminal case against them will ultimately be dropped.
It’s a bittersweet situation, though. Starting in February, when David started using cannabis to treat his epilepsy with cannabis, he went 71 days without a seizure. Without the plant, the seizures have returned.
By contrast, Suzanne said that within a week of marijuana treatment, David was able to “talk properly,” he was no longer “stumbling over himself” and “every day he was getting better.”
“Within the first week, there was no more of the behavioral problems. My son went 71 days without a single seizure.”
David said that the cannabis enabled him to be a normal 15-year-old. Asked what he’d tell Georgia lawmakers who don’t believe that marijuana is medicine, he said simply: “It worked for me.”
His mother responded to the question more bluntly.
“My message to Georgia lawmakers is get your heads out of your asses. This is something that not only people can use to keep their anxiety low—because everybody on the face of the planet suffers from anxiety—but this is also something that can help so many kids. Get your heads out of your asses and make it legal.”
Regardless of how the family’s case pans out, one thing is clear. Criminalizing medical marijuana, even in a state as deep red as Georgia, remains unpopular among voters. And David’s case—evoking the interest of a national audience and the ACLU, which filed an amicus brief defending the family—has served as a testament to that sentiment.
As Suzanne told Atlantic Georgia News earlier this week, this case exemplifies “how the war on drugs breaks up families.”
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.
“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.
On Thursday, April 16, Georgia governor Nathan Deal made the highly regulated and limited use of cannabis oil legal in his state by signing the Haleigh’s Hope Act.
Named after Haleigh Cox, a five-year-old Georgia resident with a severe form of epilepsy, the law is surprising progress in an area of southern America that has, thus far, failed to follow the lead of medical cannabis pioneers like California, Oregon, and Colorado.
The oil, which is extracted from a strain of marijuana that’s low in THC, doesn’t give users the psychoactive effect and euphoric high of street varieties, making it perfect for both children and adults with jobs and careers. Instead of THC, this powerful extract is rich in the cannabinoid CBD, known for its unique pain reduction and nerve conditioning properties.
Before being allowed to possess and consume the oil, patients must first obtain a prescription from a doctor. Ironically, because cultivation of cannabis, even for medical purposes, remains illegal in Georgia, families are forced to acquire the organic oil from states where it is permitted, like Colorado or California.
Despite these barriers to safe, local access, patients with the following conditions will be permitted to possess up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil:
Seizure disorders related to diagnosis of epilepsy or trauma related head injuries.
Multiple Sclerosis, when such diagnosis is severe or end stage.
Parkinson’s Disease, when such diagnosis is severe or end stage.
Sickle Cell Disease, when such diagnosis is severe or end stage.
Notably lacking from the list is arthritis, depression, PTSD, cancer, chronic pain, glaucoma, and migraines, among many other conditions.
Ironically, Haleigh Cox and her family had already moved out of Georgia, to Colorado, at the time of the bill’s passage. The Georgia natives made the move simply to give Kindergarten-age Haleigh ready access to the only medicine that decreases her more than 200 seizures per day.
After doctors told Haleigh’s mother, Janea, that her daughter might have only three months to live — and the child would regularly stop breathing (a side effect of her anti-seizure medication) — Ms. Cox decided to make the move to Colorado Springs. Now that possession and use of the seizure-reducing oil are legal in the Peach State, the family plans to move back.
Weak in Comparison
While certainly progress, other states, like California and Oregon, have much more liberal and less restrictive medical marijuana laws in place. Patients in these states are allowed to grow, smoke, and consume a variety of forms of raw cannabis flowers (buds), hash, kief, oil, tinctures, and edibles.
Georgia’s law in also unusually strict in terms of requiring advanced forms of certain diseases. For example, the law allows the administration of cannabis oil only for “severe or end stage” levels of Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.
Many medical marijuana advocates will be frustrated that serious conditions, like early-stage Parkinson’s, aren’t covered by the law — especially considering that some research has pointed to the power of cannabis medicine to stop the progression of diseases like Altzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis.
Better Than Before
However, the relief delivered to patients of all ages by this law is unquestionable. While it doesn’t provide a convenient means of production or access to the oil, the legislation gives patients like Haleigh Cox, who have tried other, more conventional pharmaceutical drugs and therapies, a new lease on life (and, in some cases, literally life itself).
There’s plenty of room for improvement in this law — such as the inclusion of several conditions that are standard in many other states — but Georgia’s newfound leniency toward medical cannabis is no doubt a positive sign in a state not known for its progressive social policies.
Advocates of medical marijuana in Georgia are extremely angry with State Rep. Allen Peake after his office sent out a press release announcing that he would completely scrap his proposed medical marijuana marijuana bill, HB 1, following a meeting with Governor Nathan Deal.
The original HB 1 proposal that Peak was committed to introducing established a medical marijuana program similar to that of Colorado’s. There were to be licensed doctors, cultivation facilities, and dispensaries. That is no longer the case.
During Peake’s conversations with Governor it became clear that he was not prepared to allow the bill to move forward.
“I have been in intense conversations with the Governor over the last several days about HB 1, and I view today’s progress as a huge step in the right direction,”
Rep. Peake said in his release.
What is left of the bill includes a provision that promises immunity to people who are found possessing CBD oil with THC content at 5% or less.
This puts Georgians in a very tough spot. They are not able to acquire the product legally in their home state, but they are able to possess it.
Therefore, most residents will have to transport the product through illegal means – most likely purchasing in Colorado and transporting it across country or sending through the mail. Both of those options potentially risk prosecution, but Peake downplayed the transport risk for Georgia residents citing the federal ruling made in December halting raids and funding on medical marijuana dispensaries.
Beyond the fact that it’s illegal to take any form of cannabis outside the state lines of Colorado, all common routes from Colorado to Georgia go through states where there is no active medical marijuana legislation.
I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly not risking transporting ANY form of cannabis outside the legal jurisdiction where I acquired it. The friendly officers in the states on the map above may not be too kind if they find CBD oil in a Georgia family’s vehicle.
Furthermore, in the event a family was detained, would Georgia officials come to the rescue? Are their provisions in the bill for this?
Peake’s press releases cites the “Creation of a council whose sole charge will be to examine the future establishment of a regulatory model for an in-state growth and distribution infrastructure in Georgia. The committee is charged with providing its recommendations to the General Assembly by December 31, 2015.”
“Putting a very positive spin on something very bad… I’m not sure what we can do. Frankly, we’re stunned – I’m stunned.”
Stated James Bell of Georgia CARE, a medical marijuana advocacy group.
It is clear that the committee appointed to providing future regulations for medical marijuana in Georgia has their work cut out for them.