HB 324: Puff, Puff, Passed!

By: Laura Trejo, Spring 2019 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

Since 2015, registered patients in the state of Georgia have been able to use medical marijuana oil to treat certain health conditions. However, until recently, it was illegal to buy, sell, or transport the oil within the state, forcing many patients to cross state lines to obtain medical marijuana oil, breaking numerous laws in the process. On April 17, 2019, Governor Brian Kemp signed House Bill 324 into law, allowing qualified individuals to possess up to 20 fluid ounces of low THC oil.

The new law allows qualified individuals to apply for a Low THC Oil Registry Card, which allows them to possess up to 20 fluid ounces of low THC oil without fear of criminal prosecution. An adult or legal guardian of an adult who has one or more diseases specified in the law and who is a resident of Georgia is eligible for a Low THC Registry Card. Additionally, and most relevant to the clients of the HeLP Clinic, the parent or legal guardian of a minor child who has one or more of the diseases specified in the law and who is a resident of Georgia or was born in Georgia is also eligible for a registry card.

The law covers such diseases as cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. It also covers diseases we commonly see in the HeLP Clinic, including seizure disorders related to epilepsy or traumatic head injuries, severe or end-stage sickle cell disease, and severe or end-stage autism spectrum disorders. Low THC oil may help alleviate the symptoms of these diseases by controlling seizures, alleviating the pain associated with sickle cell disease crises, and regulating behavioral and emotional symptoms of autism spectrum disorders.

Although passage of the law was a big step forward in terms of allowing qualified individuals to possess low THC oil legally, it is still quite limited in scope. For instance, physicians may recommend low THC oil to their patients, but they may not prescribe, supply, or administer the oil directly. Rather, physicians must sign off on qualified individuals’ registration card applications and then submit them to the Georgia Department of Public Health for approval. Only registered caregivers (the parents or guardians of patients) may possess or administer low THC oil. Additionally, hospitals may regulate the possession of low THC oil on their campuses. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, for example, requires parents or guardians possessing low THC oil to complete a consent and waiver form releasing the hospital from liability in connection with the possession.

The law does allow for limited cultivation of marijuana and dispensing of low THC oil. The law currently licenses only six private companies, the University of Georgia, and Fort Valley State University to cultivate marijuana and research the therapeutic uses of the plant in treating disease. The law also leaves the regulation of selling and dispensing the oil to the state pharmacy board to establish and manage medical marijuana dispensing licenses for pharmacies. It remains to be seen how the state pharmacy board will regulate dispensing licenses and how the sale of low THC oil will work in practice.