The State of Georgia is taking steps that allow licensees to grow cannabis and produce low THC oil(1) that can be used for defined medicinal purposes. In 2015, the Georgia General Assembly enacted “Haleigh’s Hope Act,” which is a law that allows patients to possess up to 20 fluid ounces of medical cannabis oil with up to 5% THC if the person was registered with the Georgia Department of Public Health or was involved in a clinical trial through the University System of Georgia. In 2016, the legislature expanded the medical conditions for which the cannabis oil could be used to fourteen stated conditions, including cancer, ALS, Parkinson’s, Sickle Cell, autism, and Alzheimer’s. The problem, however, was that Georgia law did not allow patients to purchase the low THC oil; the law allowed individuals only to possess the oil.
In 2019, Governor Brian Kemp signed into law HB 324, known as Georgia’s Hope Act, which allows patients to purchase low THC oil for medicinal purposes and grants licenses to entities to grow the cannabis and produce the low THC oil. Georgia’s Hope Act sought to fill the gap in then-current law that permitted people to use low THC oil but prohibited the purchase of the oil. When enacting HB 324, the General Assembly found that a “carefully constructed system of in-state cultivation” of low THC oil would “benefit patients within the State of Georgia.” Because the purchase and possession of a certain amount of low THC oil remains a crime, Georgia law makes clear that “contractors associated with the production of low THC oil in accordance” with the law are exempt from “arrest, prosecution, or any civil or administrative penalty.” (O.C.G.A. § 16-12-231(4)). Similarly, “contracts related to the cultivation, harvesting manufacturing, production, and distribution of cannabis solely for the manufacture of low THC oil” are not “deemed contracts against public policy” that otherwise would be void because the subject matter ordinarily is illegal. (O.C.G.A. § 16-12-233). Thus, the production of low THC oil pursuant to state-issued licenses is an exemption to the Georgia criminal code. See O.C.G.A. § 16-12-191(f) (stating that criminal prohibition against possessing between 20 and 160 fluid ounces of low THC oil does not apply to “a designated university, pharmacy, or licensee” if acting pursuant to this code section). \
HB 324 also created the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, which is a seven-member commission that, among other things, is charged with developing and maintaining a low THC oil distribution network and issuing a limited number of licenses to designated universities and contractors for the production of low THC oil. Members of the commission were appointed in December 2019 and have met several times since then. The commission may issue up to two Class 1 production licenses, which authorize the licensee to grow cannabis in up to 100,000 square feet of cultivation space and manufacture low THC oil, and up to four Class 2 licenses, which authorize the licensee to grow cannabis in up to 50,000 square feet of cultivation space and manufacture low THC oil. The Commission is expected to administer a procurement soon for the licenses to grow cannabis and produce low THC oil.
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(1) Low THC oil is oil that contains less than 5% by weight of THC. See O.C.G.A. § 16-12-190.