Pharmacies in Georgia will soon be able to dispense medical cannabis to registered patients, making the state the first in the nation to allow medical marijuana to be purchased outside of licensed cannabis dispensaries. Applications are currently being accepted by the Georgia Board of Pharmacy from retailers seeking the ability to offer low-THC cannabis oil, which was legalized by the state legislature in 2019. Regulations permitting the production and distribution did not go into effect until this year, however, leaving qualified patients without a legal source of medical cannabis until the state’s seven medical cannabis dispensaries opened in April.
To be eligible to use medical cannabis, patients must be diagnosed with one of several qualifying medical conditions such as pain, nausea, insomnia seizures, terminal cancers, Parkinson’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients must also register with the state and obtain a low-THC oil registry card. The law only allows cannabis oil products with up to 5% THC, including oils, tinctures, lozenges, capsules and topicals.
Regulations Approved Last Month
Last month, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp approved regulations passed by the Georgia Board of Pharmacy allowing pharmacies to carry medical cannabis products. National pharmacy chains such as Walgreens and CVS will not carry the products, which will instead be offered by independent pharmacies. Georgia has approximately 400 independent pharmacies, more than 100 of which have expressed interest in submitting applications to offer medical cannabis to the state pharmacy board. Supporters of the state’s medical cannabis program believe that the development will help patients learn about the benefits of medical marijuana in a familiar setting.
“Pharmacists are a trusted provider, and it’s a way for us to destigmatize this new medicine,” Mindy Leech, a pharmacist and the owner of Lee-King Pharmacy in Newnan, told the Associated Press. “It’ll make people more comfortable if they want to come in and ask questions about it.”
The state has licensed two companies, Botanical Sciences and Trulieve GA Inc., an affiliate of Florida-based Trulieve Cannabis Corporation as the state’s only cannabis cultivators, permitting each of the businesses to grow plants on up to 100,000 square feet of cultivation space. Gary Long, the CEO of Botanical Sciences, said that authorizing pharmacies to sell medical marijuana products helps them better serve their customers.
“Pharmacists have been fielding questions from patients for years without ever having the ability to do anything about it,” said Gary Long, CEO for Botanical Sciences. “Finally, they have the ability not just to give people advice but provide them with the therapies they’ve been seeking.”
Long told CNN that he has spent the last year-and-a-half visiting small towns throughout Georgia to reassure local officials about the impending arrival of medical marijuana at pharmacies in their communities.
“They think that we’re going to be selling joints out of a pharmacy or something and that’s not right,” he said.
Advocates of making medical cannabis available at Georgia pharmacies note that the move will greatly improve access for patients, who have so far only been served by the seven licensed dispensaries that opened earlier this year. Long said that 130 of the state’s 400 independent pharmacies have already agreed to offer his company’s products exclusively, making approximately 90% of Georgia’s population within a 30-minute drive of an authorized medical cannabis retailer.
“We’re going to have patients that need this health care in some remote parts of Georgia that probably would never have a dispensary near them,” said Jonathan Marquess, vice president for the Georgia Pharmacy Association and the owner of several pharmacies in the Atlanta area. “But they do have a caring professional, a knowledgeable professional pharmacist, in their communities who can talk to them.”
Andrew Turnage, executive director for the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, agreed, saying that the pharmacy rule is “definitely big news.”
“It helps both our licensees and especially our patients,” he said. “It’ll put access in virtually every county in the state.”
While the approval of pharmacies as medical cannabis retailers is a positive step for patient access, advocates note that the other rules governing Georgia’s program are among the most restrictive of the 38 states that have legalized the use of medical marijuana.
“The Georgia law itself still has a long way to go,” said Aaron Smith, the executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “So, it’s good to see Georgia come into line with the vast majority of states that already have medical use, but other states have done it in a way that I think is more effective at actually meeting the needs of patients.”