ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia may soon allow the production and sale of low-potency medical marijuana oil within the state.
The new measure, introduced Thursday in the Georgia House, would give patients who are already allowed to possess low potency marijuana oil access to the product. It would close a loophole created by the state's 2015 medical marijuana law that allowed patients to possess the drug but provided no real way to obtain it.
Current state law allows individuals with 16 specific conditions, including cancer, seizure disorders and Parkinson's disease, to possess low-potency medical marijuana oil. But it remains illegal to grow, process, buy, sell and transport.
The proposal, authored by Republican Rep. Micah Gravley, would allow 10 licenses to grow and manufacture the substance in Georgia and could create as many as 50 retail locations. Gravley said it would provide safe access to medical marijuana for more than 8,000 patients in the state.
"I have personally seen the benefits of medical marijuana on both young and old members of my family," Gravley said. "I know this works. I wouldn't be standing here today if I had any doubt in my mind."
Gravley was also quick to dismiss criticism that his legislation may open the door for recreational marijuana use.
"Let me be clear about this. There is no appetite in the state of Georgia for the recreational use of marijuana," Gravely said.
Thirty-three states have comprehensive medical marijuana programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Georgia is one of 13 other states that allow patients to possess a lower potency form of the drug.
Shannon Cloud came to the Capitol with her 13-year-old daughter, Alaina, who her mother said suffers from seizures as a result of Dravet syndrome and has the developmental age of a 4-year-old.
Alaina had her first seizure when she was just four months old. For the past four years, her mother has given her medical marijuana oil. Alternative medicines have harmful side effects, including liver and kidney damage, Cloud said.
"We are tired of having to go to extremes and break laws to get this oil," Cloud said. "I'm tired of having to meet people in parking lots. I'm tired of hearing stories of parents buying weed on the street and making oil in their kitchens."
A joint House and Senate committee tasked with studying access to the drug late last year had recommended lawmakers consider providing licenses to grow, manufacture and dispense it within the state.
Gravley's bill creates an 11-member oversight board to review licensing applications and an office to regulate the program within the Department of Public Health.
A portion of the licenses are intended for large companies and another segment is set aside for smaller businesses.
Under the proposal, licenses should be approved by Jan. 1, 2020 and products should be available within a year from approval. If not, the license could be revoked.
Newly elected Gov. Brian Kemp has in the past supported limited expansion of the state's medical marijuana program but has opposed in-state cultivation.
Last year, former Gov. Nathan Deal signed legislation into law that added post-traumatic stress disorder and intractable pain to the list of conditions covered by the law.