ATLANTA — Georgia’s governor was brought to tears as he signed a bill that makes cannabis oil legal in Georgia, the 36th state to do so.
The new law allows the use of cannabis oil to treat eight serious medical conditions. Patients can possess up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil no more than 5% of tetrahydrocannabinoil or THC, the chemical in marijuana that causes a high.
“For the families enduring separation and patients suffering pain, the wait is finally over,” Gov. Nathan Deal said Thursday.
Seeing children and families personally affected caused him and legislators to re-evaluate the issue of medical marijuana in the state, he said. Many of those families were in attendance at ceremony.
“It’s touched my heart,” Deal said with tears in his eyes. “I’m just pleased that today we’re going to make a difference and it’s going to be a good difference.”.
The bill’s sponsor, GOP Rep. Allen Peake of Macon, Ga., Praised the signing.
“We can now begin the highly anticipated process of bringing our medical refugees back home to Georgia,” he said.
Patients with the following conditions are eligible for medical cannabis oil under the new law: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease; cancer; Crohn’s disease; mitochondrial disease; multiple sclerosis; Parkinson’s disease; seizure disorders; and sickle cell anemia.
The system to apply for medical marijuana treatment should be up and running in the next 30 to 60 days, the governor said. In the meantime, Deal issued temporary cards to seven families who had moved to other states as they awaited action.
He hugged Haleigh Cox, 5, who has intractable epilepsy, and her mother, Janea Cox, who have been living in Colorado for months while husband Brian, a Johns Creek firefighter, stayed in Georgia.
More applications for temporary cards are being processed. Deal said Georgia’s program will be tightly regulated and patients will have to be granted documentation from physicians before receiving cards from the state.
Georgia became the 36th state plus the District of Columbia to legalize the use of marijuana extracts for medical use. That includes 12 states that only use it to treat epilepsy, Peake said.
But obstacles remain. Possession of marijuana is illegal under federal law though the federal Justice Department has said it will not stand in the way of states that want to legalize marijuana, as long as effective controls are in place.
Joseph Moses, a special agent in Atlanta for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, said the DEA will “hold to those guidelines” but added that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
Deal stressed that the law does not allow the cultivation, manufacturing or sale of medical marijuana in the state.
Peake and other advocates contend the state should legalize and regulate the in-state cultivation of cannabis oil to remove any risk of being unable to get supplies.
Deal said he would work to make sure the state agencies involved handle the job properly and will seek to improve the law in next year’s General Assembly.
Contributing: The Associated Press.