Federal drug officials have issued a warning to Georgia, advising the state to halt its plans to become the first to permit pharmacies to dispense medical marijuana products. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) conveyed on Nov. 27 that dispensing medical marijuana is in violation of federal law. Despite the Georgia Board of Pharmacy initiating the acceptance of applications for dispensing products in October and issuing licenses to 23 independent pharmacies, the federal directive has brought these plans into question.
The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, overseeing the state’s emerging medical marijuana industry, expressed its inability to override the federal directive. Andrew Turnage, the commission’s executive director, acknowledged the state’s desire to see pharmacists continue providing consultations for medical cannabis products, as they do for other medications.
In a memo directed at pharmacies, the DEA clarified that none of them can lawfully possess, handle, or dispense marijuana or related products containing more than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical responsible for the “high” associated with cannabis use. While Georgia permits patients with medical needs to purchase medical marijuana products with up to 5% THC, the DEA’s stance considers products with THC content above 0.3% to be illegal under federal drug law.
Georgia has allowed patients with specific illnesses and physician approval to possess and consume low-THC medical cannabis products since 2015. However, legal avenues for purchasing these products within the state only became available in April. The recent DEA notice, shared by the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, underscores the conflict between state and federal law.
Ira Katz of Little Five Points Pharmacy in Atlanta expressed confusion over the discrepancy, noting that pharmacies should be able to dispense products similarly to marijuana dispensaries, as they would source from the same growers. The Georgia Pharmacy Association acknowledged the challenging position created by the conflict between state and federal law, expressing efforts to provide information and assistance to navigate the issue.
While opponents of rapid marijuana legalization believe the DEA’s stance protects consumers and allows time for more research, potential changes could be on the horizon. In August, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed removing marijuana from the Schedule I substances list, potentially reclassifying it as a lower-risk Schedule III drug.