ATLANTA, Ga. (May 2, 2019) – Last month, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill that expands the state medical cannabis law. Enactment of this measure takes another step toward nullifying federal marijuana prohibition in effect.
A bipartisan coalition of five representatives introduced House Bill 324 (HB324) on Feb. 14. Titled “Georgia’s Hope Act,” the new law legalizes in-state production and dispensing of low-THC oil from marijuana plants, and creates a licensing and regulatory structure for growers, processors and dispensaries.
Under the new law, the state will issue six growing licenses to private companies. It will also license dispensaries. Pharmacies can also distribute the oil, but as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution points out, “few pharmacies are likely to participate because doing so could jeopardize their federal permission to sell other drugs.”
In 2015, Georgia created an extremely limited medical marijuana program when it legalized of the possession of low-THC oil and created a registry for patients with 16 qualifying conditions. Low-THC oil is not pure marijuana. It is more akin to hemp-derived CBD, but contains up to 5 percent THC and is produced from the marijuana plant instead of industrial hemp.
When the state created the program, it did not authorize the production or sale of the medication in the state. According to the bill’s legislative findings:
“The General Assembly finds that thousands of Georgians have serious medical conditions that can be improved by the medically approved use of cannabis and that the law should not stand between them and treatment necessary for life and health. The General Assembly finds that the purpose of this Act is to allow the legitimate use of medical cannabis for health care, including palliative care.”
After a conference committee was formed to work out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, on April 4, the House approved the measure 147-16 and the Senate passed it by a 34-20 vote. With Kemp’s signature, the new law will go into effect July 1.
Even after the law goes into effect, it will be some time before patients can buy the oil in-state. The board will have to form, draw up the regulatory structure and issue licenses before dispensaries can open for business. The AJC said that could take months.
This is another example of the expanding availability of marijuana despite federal prohibition.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Although limited, Georgia’s medical marijuana program removes one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place.
FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
Passage of HB324 further undermines prohibition make it that much more difficult for the federal government to enforce it in Georgia.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Georgia joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. In 2018, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act. and Michigan passed a ballot measure legalizing cannabis for general use.
With 33 states allowing marijuana for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
Expansion of medical marijuana laws in Georgia demonstrates another important reality. Once a state puts laws in place legalizing cannabis, they tend to eventually expand. HB325 serves as a perfect example of this tendency. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. This bill represents a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition. It also demonstrates an important strategic point. Passing bills that take a step forward sets the stage, even if they aren’t perfect. Opening the door clears the way for additional steps. You can’t take the second step before you take the first.
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