Georgia’s ambition to become the first state to allow pharmacies to distribute medical-cannabis products faces a setback as the DEA issued a stern warning. On Nov. 27, 2023, the agency cautioned pharmacies that dispensing medical cannabis violates federal law, urging Georgia to reconsider its plans.
The state’s pharmacy board, which initiated the acceptance of applications for dispensing medical cannabis products in October, has already granted licenses to 23 pharmacies in the state. The state’s medical marijuana commission, GMCC, acknowledges the federal directive. Despite state law permitting pharmacies to dispense medical marijuana, the commission, under the leadership of Andrew Turnage, cannot override the federal warning. Turnage expressed the state’s desire to continue allowing pharmacists to provide consultations for medical marijuana, paralleling their role with other medications.
According to the DEA’s memorandum to pharmacies, handling or dispensing cannabis or related products containing more than 0.3% THC is deemed unlawful. While Georgia allows medical-cannabis patients to purchase cannabis products containing up to 5% THC, the agency categorizes products exceeding 0.3% THC content as illegal under federal law.
Since 2015, Georgia has permitted patients with certain illnesses, sanctioned by physicians, to possess and consume low-THC medical-marijuana products. However, legal acquisition of the product within the state’s borders only became possible in April this year.
Nationwide, 24 states have legalized cannabis for recreational use, and an additional 23 allow medical marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The recent DEA notice, disseminated online by the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Cannabis, prompted varied reactions. Some responses, such as the one from Ira Katz of Little Five Points Pharmacy, indicate pharmacies should be allowed to dispense medical-cannabis products akin to marijuana dispensaries. Conversely, Mahlon Davidson, interim CEO of the Georgia Pharmacy Association, expressed skepticism about independent pharmacists jeopardizing their businesses by contravening the DEA’s directives.
Opponents of recreational and medical cannabis legalization argue that the DEA’s directive serves to protect consumers and allows for further research. Michael Mumper, executive director of the nonprofit Georgians for Responsible Cannabis Policy, emphasized the trust consumers place in drugs dispensed from pharmacies, highlighting FDA approval and federal legality, aspects he contends are lacking in medical cannabis.
The federal perspective might transform with a recent proposal seeking to ease restrictions on cannabis. The HHS recommended removing cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III in August. The decision on this currently lies with the DEA, which is in charge of controlling substance classification in the United States.
The success of pharmacies in Georgia selling medical cannabis could have provided an interesting channel that would have interested other marijuana entities such as Cronos Group Inc. (NASDAQ: CRON) (TSX: CRON) and other states looking to improve their cannabis markets.
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