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Meeting recap: Georgia cannabis regulators grapple with DEA letter
The future of Georgia’s medical cannabis program seemed to be up in the air during a meeting of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission on Wednesday.
In October, Georgia became the first state to dispense medical cannabis cannabis via state pharmacies. The focus of Wednesday’s meeting was a letter subsequently sent by the Drug Enforcement Administration to pharmacies in the state, titled “DEA Guidance to Pharmacies on the Dispensing of Certain Tetrahydrocannabinols (THC).” In short, it reminded the pharmacies that they hold a DEA registration, and thus must follow federal law. And, of course, under federal law, cannabis is not a medicine.
What is happening in Georgia puts a glaring light on how bizarre the federal-state clash on cannabis can be. Here is a state that is trying to place cannabis in what is arguably a more tightly-regulated retail environment for patients, and the federal government is saying no. In other words, to comply, Georgia might have to take cannabis out of the hands of pharmacists and put it into the hands of budtenders.
Of course, this ongoing federal-state clash and its ramifications aren’t news. And the Commissioners reiterated this on Wednesday.
“This communication” from the DEA, said chair Sidney Johnson, III, “highlights the conflicting legal framework that still exists between the federal and state governments.”
The Commission’s general counsel, Jansen Head, noted that specific pharmacies got letters with their DEA number on it, but that the message was the same across the board.
“This is the same position that the federal government has had since the Controlled Substances Act. That became law in 1970. That’s over half a century ago. You know, we’re aware of different federal laws being in place and needing to be updated,” she said.
She described the “tension” as part of the “core” of the Commission’s work, which is “complying with state law while recognizing federal law says maybe something different.”
She turned to different interpretations of what the DEA could do, legally, with regard to Georgia’s program, while acknowledging that they are in uncharted territory. She – and Commission members – grappled during the meeting with not having clarity on the DEA’s “intent” with the letter, but maintained a focus on their duty to the state’s patients.
“I think we all know that our patients have been through more than enough and they have fought to get us here. They are leaning on us, the state, to carry this through and continue to fight for them,” she said.
Andrew Turnage, the executive director of the Commission, said that at the annual Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA) meeting in early December he received a lot of positive feedback about the pharmacy approach. Participants told him, he said, that “this model makes perfect sense,” and that it is “exactly the way that it should have been from the beginning,” but, he continued, “they also expressed concern as it relates to finding out about the DEA’s letter.”
Now, he said, their hands are possibly tied with regard to pharmacies.
“As we look to what the next steps are, we certainly would want to see allowing pharmacies continue to be able to provide that consultation for medical cannabis products as they do with any other medication that they dispense. But we also recognize that that is a federal issue and that’s something beyond our ability to intervene,” he said.
A bit later, Commission member Bill Prather described the DEA letter as a “direct threat to pharmacies saying ‘if you dispense this product, we’ll pull your DEA permit,’” which could put them “out of business.”
Head and Turnage referenced ongoing conversations with other states that have established medical cannabis programs, and with entities within Georgia, such as the Board of Pharmacy, and Head said that “Georgia should have a united position, in some way.”
What that position will be, and what difference it makes in the face of federal law, remains to be seen.
Colombia’s adult use push fails, again.
In June, Colombia’s Senate came just a handful of votes shy of passing a bill to regulate adult use cannabis, which had already cleared the Chamber of Representatives, as Cannabis Wire reported at the time.
This week marked the culmination of another push to get adult use legislation out of the Senate, but the effort fell short late Tuesday.
President Gustavo Petro posted to X on Wednesday that this outcome will only “increase the profits of drug trafficking and its violence.”
The lawmakers pushing for regulation in Congress, Juan Carlos Losada and María José Pizarro Rodríguez, in the Chamber and the Senate, respectively, both lamented the outcome but vowed to continue their push.
Lawmakers send tribal lands bill to Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Will Hochul sign a bill that could help out New York’s cannabis growers? This week, it was formally transmitted to her.
Both chambers of the legislature passed a bill months ago that would allow cultivators to sell some of the 250,000 lbs of unsold cannabis to New York’s Tribal Nations. Cannabis Wire has reached out to Hochul’s office since June about this bill. We have been told that she is “reviewing” the legislation.
+ Context: In September, a group of 66 members of New York’s legislature sent Hochul a letter, urging her to sign the bill.