States across the country are saying yes to marijuana and psychedelics while further restricting other controlled substances like vapes and cigarettes.
What’s Georgia doing? Well, it depends on the substance. So far this year, the state General Assembly has pushed bills to ban, regulate, or raise taxes on Delta-8 THC, Kratom, vapes, and tobacco products. Meanwhile, another bill would finally nudge the sale of legalized medical marijuana oils toward viability.
Here is a closer look at these proposed new laws:
Clearing the way for medical marijuana sales
The General Assembly legalized the possession of low-THC cannabis oil for medicinal purposes back in 2015—but seven years later, almost 25,000 registered patients still can’t buy it legally in Georgia. Some of the stalling is because lawmakers didn’t pass legislation allowing commercial businesses to grow marijuana indoors, turn it into low-THC cannabis oil (up to 5% THC) and sell it at their own dispensaries until 2019. And then, the Legislature allocated only six licenses, which created conflict, since more than six companies wanted them.
Earlier this month, the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission granted final approval to two marijuana companies, Botanical Sciences and Trulieve, that it had awarded licenses last fall to grow and sell medical marijuana in the form of low-THC oil at up to six dispensaries each across Georgia. But eight companies denied those licenses filed suit last fall, claiming the selection process was unfair and arbitrary. Those lawsuits have stalled the opening of the medical marijuana market.
House Bill 196 bumps up the number of medical cannabis production licenses from the current six to 14. Lawmakers say that would nullify court cases from the companies seeking licenses and allow dispensaries to open. The bill was referred back to a conference committee last week for further consideration.
Meanwhile, a Democrat-sponsored bill, Senate Bill 30, aims to further decriminalize marijuana possession by doubling the amount that falls under a misdemeanor charge—from one ounce to two. The current penalty for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana is up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000. (Under a city of Atlanta ordinance, the punishment for possessing less than an ounce is set at a $75 fine and no jail time.) But that bill is currently stalled in the Senate, with no votes taken.
Sharp restrictions on Delta-8 THC products?
Marijuana remains illegal in Georgia, except for registered patients, who can possess cannabis oil with up to 5% THC. But this session there is a bill to regulate hemp products containing THC, after the federal 2018 Farm Bill legalized cannabidiol (CBD) derived from hemp containing less than 0.3% Delta-9 THC.
However, the federal law did not specifically mention another THC variant, Delta-8—a psychoactive cannabinoid that’s generally derived from hemp plants with less than 0.3% THC. Delta 8 is said to have a less potent “high,” which is why it’s sometimes called “marijuana-lite.” Some users say Delta-8 helps calm nausea, relieve pain, and boost mental health, but science experts say more testing is needed–and the Food & Drug Administration as well as local lawmakers are concerned about potential side effects.
Delta-8 THC currently sits in a legal gray area, so retailers in Georgia and many other states have largely been able to sell products containing it without restrictions. As a result, Delta-8 has become a $2 billion industry.
Last year, a bill that would have legalized Delta-8 THC died in the state Senate. Now Senate Bill 22, filed last month by state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-Marietta, instead tries to close the legal loophole by sharply regulating hemp products of any type for consumption. The bill would make it illegal for anyone under 21 to buy edible hemp products, and it would require licensing to grow hemp and sell edible hemp products. It also sets stiff penalties for violations.
“There’s no regulation whatsoever on Delta-8 and all those other sorts of side products that are converted to Delta-9,” Kirkpatrick told the Cherokee Tribune. “I am trying to find a way to get some control over that, especially when it comes to minors, because kids can walk in CBD stores and the edibles and gummies, things like that, no one knows what’s in them.”
Delta-8 THC is currently sold in gummy, candy, beverage, and other consumable forms in CBD and wellness stores all over Atlanta, but they generally restrict sales to those 21 years old and up. One local retailer, who did not wish to be identified, told Atlanta Civic Circle that Delta-8 sales make up roughly 70% to 80% of their business. If SB 22 became law, they said, and heavily restricted the sale of products containing Delta 8 THC, they might no longer remain in business.
Understanding the Georgia General Assembly: March 6 is Crossover Day, the deadline for a bill to have passed at least one of the two legislative chambers. Bills that do not make the cut may be considered in the 2024 legislative session.
Kratom is an herbal extract from Southeast Asia that’s currently found in products already on the shelves in Georgia CBD shops and gas stations. It’s often used as a treatment for pain or for the energized feeling it can provide.
But if Rep. Rick Townsend’s House Bill 181 passes, it would make kratom a Schedule I controlled substance in Georgia. Legally, that would put kratom on par with ecstasy, heroin, LSD and other illicit drugs.
New taxes and regulations on vapes and cigarettes
Prepare to pay more to smoke cigarettes or vape if a series of bills submitted in the General Assembly get passed. State Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, a pharmacist, is the lead sponsor of two bills, House Bills 191 and 192.
Georgia’s 37 cents a pack tax is among the lowest rates in the country — second only to Missouri. HB 191 pitches a 20-cent tax increase on cigarettes, bringing it up to 57 cents per pack while bumping up the tax on vaping products, depending on the type of e-cigarette. The second bill (HB 192) would more than double the tax on vaping products to 15%—up from 7%.
According to a recent poll commissioned by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute and the University of Georgia, most Georgians favor raising their tobacco tax to at least the national average of $1.91.
Last week, the state Senate also voted 51-3 to pass Senate Bill 47, which would place vaping under Georgia’s 2005 Smoke-Free Air Act, prohibiting vaping indoors in most public places. That bill is now being considered in the Georgia House.
WANT TO HAVE A VOICE IN THESE PROPOSED SUBSTANCE-USE LAWS?