In September 2015, Georgia governor Nathan Deal signed House Bill 1, also known as the “Haleigh’s Hope Act,” which legalized the use of medical cannabis in Georgia. Specifically, House Bill 1 allows those that qualify to possess up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil (containing no more than 5% THC). Medical cannabis oil is available for children or adults with the following conditions:
- Crohn’s disease
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gerhig’s disease
- Mitochondrial disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Seizure disorders
- Sickle cell disease
Since the law went into affect, the Georgia Department of Public Health has created a “Low THC Oil Registry” database that includes the names of everyone whose physician has written a prescription for cannabis oil. After registering, patients are issued an identification card for $25. This card essentially gives them immunity from prosecution if they are found in possession of cannabis oil (within the legal limit of 20 ounces).
The problem that most Georgians have is that they have no way to access the drug; Georgia has no fields to grow marijuana plants, no processing plants to turn marijuana leaves into cannabis oil and no dispensaries where people can get the drug. Under state law, all of these facilities are illegal.
It’s also a Federal crime to transport marijuana across state lines, even with a registration card. Since each state law is different, someone in possession of a card from Georgia cannot get cannabis oil in one of the other 39 states that have legalized medical marijuana. This leaves patients with only one way to get cannabis oil; go to one of the two states that have legalized recreational marijuana (Colorado or Washington).
The Federal law, however, prevents people from transporting the drug back to Georgia-which means that in order to get the treatment they need, people need to break the law. Since patients can only possess 20 ounces of cannabis oil, they will need to make frequent trips to Colorado or Washington. Not only can this be costly, but each trip means that they run the risk of being arrested.
Of course, once they are back in Georgia, the patient is immune to prosecution. Essentially, this makes the Georgia law nearly useless, except to prevent Georgian police from arresting people with small amounts of cannabis-something they probably wouldn’t have done before the law anyway, since making such low level arrests usually isn’t worth the time or effort for a local police force.
Georgia lawmakers are currently exploring options to make it easier (and legal) for patients to get cannabis oil in-state. If and when this occurs, patients will face another problem: finding a dispensary willing to take their payment. According to the Federal government, cannabis is still considered a controlled substance-making it difficult to find banks willing to do business with cannabis dispensaries. This means that when a person purchases cannabis, banks will not authorize the transaction.
This makes it particularly difficult for patients to order cannabis online; and since many of the conditions medical cannabis covers make it difficult to travel, many patients have no choice but to purchase cannabis online and have it delivered. In order to get around this, many cannabis merchants are beginning to start merchant accounts with companies like this one that are willing to accept credit card transactions.