Georgia's journey into the realm of medical marijuana has been a slow and cautious one. Unlike the majority of the 37 states that permit medical marijuana use, Georgia's laws are notably more restrictive. It took eight years for lawmakers to legalize medical cannabis, and the approval for sales of low-THC oil products only came in 2021. The first licensed sales began in April of the same year.
The Challenge of Accessibility
While the introduction of low-THC oil products was a significant step, the process of obtaining them is far from seamless. Patients like Sylvia Hayes, who seek relief from chronic pain through medical marijuana, faced hurdles in navigating the system. To qualify for a medical cannabis card in Georgia, patients must have one of the listed qualifying conditions, such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, or PTSD. The process involves scheduling an appointment with a certified physician to verify the condition, followed by picking up the medical card from the local health department.
As Hayes experienced, not all doctors are knowledgeable about the process, leading to confusion and frustration. This lack of awareness among healthcare professionals adds an extra layer of difficulty for patients seeking relief.
The Physician Certification Dilemma
One significant challenge in Georgia's medical marijuana landscape is the reluctance of many doctors to prescribe low-THC oil. Dr. Trista Marshall, a specialized physician in physical medicine and rehabilitation, sheds light on the issue. Physicians need to complete a certification process themselves before they can prescribe medical marijuana to patients.
This certification process adds a layer of complexity to the already challenging landscape. Patients cannot assume that their current physician is certified, requiring them to specifically inquire. Unfortunately, the Georgia Department of Public Health does not disclose information about the number or locations of certified doctors, leaving patients in the dark.
The Cost of Relief
Another obstacle for patients seeking access to medical marijuana is the financial aspect. Consultation appointments with outside physicians typically range from $100 to $200. In addition, obtaining a low-THC oil card comes with a $25 fee, and the products themselves can cost between $40 to $120.
To compound the issue, none of these expenses, including the prescribed product, are covered by insurance, making relief through medical marijuana financially challenging for some.
Former NFL and University of Georgia cornerback Champ Bailey, now Trulieve’s chief diversity officer, emphasizes the importance of dispelling the stigma surrounding medical cannabis. Growing up in South Georgia, Bailey had preconceived notions about marijuana as a gateway drug. His perspective shifted when he witnessed the dangers of opioids among athletes coping with pain. Bailey advocates for cannabis as a safer alternative, emphasizing its non-addictive nature compared to opioids.
Dispensaries like Trulieve are actively engaged in education and community outreach to combat stigma and make people aware of the legal pathways for obtaining and using low-THC oil. As Bailey states, "It's going to take time, but Georgia is ready for it."
The Legal Gray Area
Georgia operates in a legal gray area when it comes to marijuana. It is not considered a "medical marijuana state" in the traditional sense. Current laws provide a legal pathway for patients to possess up to 20 ounces of low-THC oil if they are registered with the Georgia Department of Public Health. Possession of over an ounce of marijuana without proper registration is a felony, punishable by fines exceeding $1,000 and a minimum of one year imprisonment.
While Atlanta eliminated jail time as a penalty for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana in 2017, the legal landscape remains complex. Currently, around 40 people are serving prison sentences in Georgia for marijuana-related convictions, highlighting the need for ongoing legal clarity.
What Lies Ahead?
According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, only 14,000 low-THC oil cards have been issued in the state thus far. This number was revised after an initial report claiming 50,000 card holders was found to be inaccurate. The lower-than-expected registration numbers could potentially impact the number of licenses allowed in the state.
A beacon of hope lies in the recent partnership with pharmacies. This collaboration aims to bring medical cannabis products within a 30-minute drive for 90% of Georgians. Former NFL star Champ Bailey, now Trulieve’s chief diversity officer, expresses excitement about this development, especially for those in rural counties who previously had limited access.
Despite the challenges and complexities surrounding Georgia's medical marijuana industry, the benefits cannot be overlooked. Sylvia Hayes, who found relief through low-THC oil, is a testament to its potential. The need for ongoing education and awareness persists, but the potential for improved access through partnerships with pharmacies is a positive step forward.
If you are considering medical marijuana for relief from chronic conditions, it's crucial to navigate the process with persistence and seek out certified physicians. The financial considerations should be factored in, understanding that insurance does not cover the costs. Dispelling stigma and advocating for legal clarity remain essential for the industry's growth.
As Georgia's medical marijuana industry continues to navigate its expansion, the importance of understanding the legal landscape, dispelling stigma, and advocating for patient rights cannot be overstated.
If you find yourself in a similar position as Sylvia Hayes, seeking relief from chronic conditions, exploring the possibilities of medical marijuana might be the right choice for you. Considering the challenges in obtaining low-THC oil, patience and persistence are key. Connect with certified physicians, stay informed about legal nuances, and be prepared for the financial aspects.
The partnership with pharmacies holds promise for improved access, bringing relief closer to home for many Georgians. To explore your options further and stay informed about the latest developments, consider obtaining a medical marijuana card. It not only provides legal access but also signifies your commitment to seeking relief through a regulated and approved channel.
Get Ready for Medical Marijuana in Georgia
Medical cannabis is potentially beneficial for those who struggle with substance misuse. Even though this is still being investigated, it might be an affordable, safe option for people to work toward recovery.
Despite some delays, Georgia will soon have access to medical marijuana! To give patients the relief they deserve, we hope Georgia dispensaries should open their doors in 2023.
If you are still determining if you qualify, we can help! Just give us a call.
You can reserve an evaluation online today with one of our compassionate cannabis doctors, and we'll make an appointment as soon as possible. Feel free to ask any questions in the meantime!
You and your new doctor will discuss your conditions and whether you qualify for a Georgia Marijuana Card. And if you make your reservation online today, you'll save $25 off your evaluation!
Feel free to call us at (866) 781-5606, and we can help answer your questions about getting medical marijuana in Georgia.
It is essential to be ready to acquire safe, legal medication when the time comes so you don't have to wait any longer for the relief you need. If you want to stay current on Georgia's medical marijuana laws, sign up for our email and read our weekly blogs.