As Georgia continues to roll out its medical cannabis program, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has placed a significant roadblock that impedes pharmacy sales of low-THC oil, a key component of the program.  In a notice sent to pharmacies in the state, the DEA warns that neither “marijuana nor THC can lawfully be possessed, handled, or dispenses by any DEA-registered pharmacy.”  

The DEA memo asserts that, although Georgia law allows low-THC oil to be dispensed to qualified patients by pharmacies in the state, federal law does not.  Such products remain illegal under federal law because marijuana is still classified as “a Schedule I controlled substance.”  The DEA memo specifies that DEA-registered pharmacies “may only dispense controlled substances in Schedules II-V of the Controlled Substances Act.”

In 2015, Georgia set out to legalize possession of medical cannabis by passing Haleigh’s Hope Act.  More than eight years since then, much has had to happen for medical cannabis to become available to patients.  The first medical cannabis dispensary in Georgia finally opened earlier this year on April 28, 2023.  Georgia seeks to offer medical cannabis in its pharmacies but now faces this new hurdle from the DEA.

This guidance from the DEA comes on the heals of a recommendation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to declassify marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance and instead make it a Schedule III substance.  The DEA has the final say on whether marijuana should be reclassified under Schedule III.  For now, marijuana remains Schedule I, and the DEA has clearly taken the position that pharmacies in Georgia may not legally sell medical cannabis, despite such sales being legal under state law.

The Conciliation Appropriations Act enacted in 2022 appears to prevent the DEA from interfering with Georgia’s medical cannabis program, so it is unclear what enforcement steps the DEA might take against any Georgia pharmacies that do not comply with the DEA’s warning.  Section 531 of the Act states, “None of the funds made available under this Act to the Department of Justice may be used . . . to prevent [Georgia or 46 other named states] from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”  Like the FBI, the DEA is an agency of the Department of Justice.

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