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Georgia and the Great Medical Marijuana Experiment

 

4/20…and dealing with the inner monologue that fits with America’s national pot smoking day. It just so happened that a few days before, Georgia’s governor, Nathan Deal, let a few tears mark the space next to his signature on the HB1 – Haleigh’s Hope Act – which he signed at the capitol in Atlanta, but despite the cheers, patients in Georgia are still wondering what it all means…how will they acquire their medicine and who can legally supply them?

I took my interest to the ground zero of cannabis reform – Denver, Colorado – for the High Times Cannabis Cup and the 420 rally at the capitol. This would be my first jaunt to Colorado following legalization in 2012.

And maybe with some Irish-American luck, I might become a liaison between cannabis oil businesses in CO and the patients Georgia. It’s what the legislature wanted…no industry.

How can the patients in Georgia stand for a situation that puts them in risk of federal prosecution?

And Georgia doesn’t even own the economic benefits. Denver based companies like Black Dog, a grow-light company, La Plata Labs, a seed company, and CannaVest, an oil company, are just a few of the businesses that I spoke with in Colorado, all are primed and ready to offer certain services to Georgia patients. And since Georgia will NOT tax or regulate a system of providers, Georgians will have to rely on Colorado based companies like CannaVest, who proudly state, “we are happy to ship to all 50 states.”

And according to their official public opinion letter:

“Cannabidiol is naturally occurring in industrial hemp and is devoid of psychoactive effect…natural cannabinoids from industrial hemp are specifically exempt from the CSA. Since natural cannabinoids are found in all industrial hemp products, and industrial hemp products are found in many grocery store shelves nationwide. Since 1937, federal law has specifically provided that industrial hemp fiber, sterilized seed and seed oil are exempt from the definition of “marihuana” and are thus not controlled substances under that law. Under the CSA, illegal marijuana does not include industrial hemp fiber, seed or oil. The definition of “marihuana” specifically excludes “the mature stalks of such [cannabis] plant, any other compounds….” 21 U.S.C. § 802(16).

But there’s a catch to those businesses. The ones willing to ship across state lines are probably not peddling high quality product. The product that they sell will not have cannabinoids from the whole plant, usually using the stalks and sterile seeds. The medical cannabis community agrees that this kind of product, usually called hemp oil, is not as effective for treating epilepsy or pain as medical-grade cannabis oil. By Georgia’s legislature not regulating and taking control of a potential industry, they will have no control over the well being of the state’s many patients, who will be forced to take extraordinary measures, such as traveling to states like Colorado to procure the product in person and then either smuggling it back across state lines or sending it through USPS, which according to The Leaf “the rate of intercepted packages alone has risen over 20% by the end of 2013 to 2,622 arrests and indictments. Of this number, 68% of these arrests were for marijuana.”

*********

DENVER – Maybe it’s the altitude, or the legal weed, or maybe it’s just the overall easy going demeanor of the people, but something was definitely different about this place. Even the tourists seemed to be mellow. “Is there any road rage out here in Denver?” I asked my Uber driver

“What’s road rage?” He replied.

How strange, I thought, that I would have to explain road rage to someone who drives people around a city for a living.

So I explained,

“Well…it’s when someone get’s mad enough that they get out of their car, pull a tire iron out of the trunk and bash in your driver-side window.”

The Uber driver looked horrified.

“Did you grow up in Denver?” I asked.

“I have lived here [Denver] for 7 years,” he replied, “but before that, I lived in India.” He waved a few pedestrians across the road, before continuing through the intersection.

“Well stay away from Atlanta.” I told him,”that’s where I’m from…believe me, those people will take everything you have…take it right out of your pockets.”

The Uber driver nodded. But did he really understand? I wondered, but maybe it was the hash…I didn’t consider this at the time, but my driver’s confusion as to the definition of road rage could be the result of a hash-oil addiction – the new age dabs – and the amnesic fog that comes from the THC flooding the brain at a different kind of pace.

“I like living here,” he declared, pulling up to the random downtown intersection that I had selected. It seemed reasonable enough. “Are you sure this is alright?” he asked, flashing me a frightened look.

“Why? Is this a bad neighborhood?” I asked.

“No,” he replied, “it’s fine.”

But, I could tell by the way his mouth hesitated that it was not me that he was worried about – it was wherever I was headed. And my God, I didn’t even have an answer for myself. I had no direction and hardly a distinct purpose. He had a right to be worried. I could be a hazard to myself and with the right kind of moon, stumble upon some teenage witch cult, spouting lifeless incantations as they hallucinate with some new-aged LSD in the hope of a supernatural connection. This is Denver. If the past five years have been proof of anything, it is that Colorado is just different.

I spent most of the weekend wandering around the city using the public light rail, the bus, and the trolley. Complete strangers spoke to me as if I was a human being. A shock to feel this welcomed. I was in a guest house in a city with people who clearly had some kind of happy-complex. Something that makes a person smile and actually look at you when you speak to them. There was none of that multi-tasking stuff, where people divide their attention between multiple devices and trying to deal with the IBS symptoms that come from gluten, or at least that’s what the gluten-free people claim.

While I made my way around the city to various dispensaries, one of the strangest things that I have ever seen in a developed society happened at the Green Solution – a dispensary just outside of downtown Denver – where, in an act of true altruism, a customer came back to rectify a bad transaction where she had not been charged enough and had returned to provide additional payment…These are the kinds of people who should be tested for mental illness.

“What kind of an irrational individual would come back after having gotten away with free stuff?” A Florida native asked after I told him and his wife what I had seen.

“Yeah, fuck them, it was there mistake,” his wife added. “I would never go back in and pay…I’d just smoke that shit and be happy.”

I happened to be in the dispensary at the same time as this noble pot-head and I asked her what she was thinking coming back to pay for it. She seemed offended at the question, staring at me for several long seconds before she said, “I don’t know.” She shrugged, “I didn’t even think about it.”

For God’s sake, I thought. She’s one of those hippies. That’s the only reason for it, the one’s who claim allegiance to some karmic doctrine…what-comes-around-goes-around. Or something like that.

But I would not have made the same choice. Not worth the gas, the irritation, and the time to fix someone else’s mistake.

Colorado regulations require internal inventory control that tracks every gram, would the dispensary have gotten into trouble with state regulators regarding the missing product?

Denver’s channel 9 news and USA Today released a report showing that Colorado regulators (MED) would have a hard time noticing such an error, and so far they have been unable to answer basic questions about the industry as a whole. The Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) could not comply with investigator’s open records request. Many Colorado lawmakers, such as Senator Owen Will, have asked, “How do we understand how to fulfill the voters’ will under the Constitution and do this well if we don’t have basic information about it?”

He says that “we need information. We need transparency; without that we’ve failed the voters’ wishes.”

Nevertheless, walking around Denver made me proud that all of these Denver residents will be reaping the economic benefits that will come with Georgia tiptoeing into the legalization process, since Georgia’s cannabis oil bill mandates that no product purchased for medical purposes by a patient in Georgia shall be manufactured or sold within the state of Georgia. Therefore, all patients are required to acquire their medicine via interstate commerce, thus breaking federal law. Despite this caveat, Gov. Nathan Deal took the opportunity at the signing to announce, “for the families enduring separation and patients suffering from pain, the wait is finally over.”
This announcement pushed many people to the conclusion that Georgia had actually made a legitimate step forward, but the law leaves patients open to federal prosecution by requiring patients to commit federal drug trafficking crimes. Not to mention the thousands of patients who do not have one of the qualifying conditions, but who might be eligible for medical marijuana recommendations in other medical-only states. Among the conditions covered in the bill are cancer, Crohn’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, mitochondrial disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, seizure disorders, and sickle cell anemia.

Georgia state senator, Curt Thompson, referred to the bill as “window dressing…” A comment that spurned a puzzled look from Governor Deal and the bill’s author Lindsey Tippins, who were both busy celebrating and crying over its passage. Thompson: “This bill is…to declare victory and get out…to say you have done something but to not necessarily do something…” Thompson also commented on the bill’s author, Lindsey Tippins (R – Marietta): “Once you draft a bill that nobody will object to, you have drafted a bill that will do nothing.”

The Executive Director of the Georgia Sheriff’s Association, Terry Norris, believes that only seizure patients should have access to cannabis oil. He does not condone the bill’s “expanded use” for other medical conditions. He believes that allowing cancer patients and those suffering from Alzheimer’s to access a “dangerous psychoactive substance” would be step toward recreational use. A step that, even though the plant has no known deaths associated with its consumption, still brings resentment from conservative political groups. Yet, a concern should still be tendered due to the high chance that cancer patients will chose to use this plant instead of various pharmaceuticals, which of course would hurt the feelings of big pharma. Besides, doctors can’t be trusted…just look what they did in Broward County, Florida. But after all that medical school, and the increasing trend of patient deaths as a result of pharmaceuticals, maybe it should be time to let this script-happy group at least prescribe a drug that is not addictive and has no deaths as a result of its use.

 

 

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