Federal law enforcement agents sent a warning letter dated Nov. 27 to pharmacies across Georgia, warning them that dispensing and selling cannabis oil is illegal under federal law. The letter arrived a month into Georgia’s medical cannabis program.
Last June, Georgia’s Board of Pharmacy released a set of regulations that enable the state’s independent pharmacies to dispense cannabis oil to eligible patients enrolled in a registry maintained by the state Department of Public Health. Beginning last Oct. 27, Georgia is the first state in the U.S. to permit independent pharmacies to sell low-THC oil. The move made it legal for over 400 independent pharmacies in Georgia to apply for the program and dispense cannabis oil. Over 100 have applied for the program so far.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warned them that dispensing THC is illegal because it remains a Schedule I drug.
“All DEA registrants, including DEA-registered pharmacies, are required to abide by all relevant federal laws and regulations,” reads a letter sent to a Georgia pharmacy by Matthew J. Strait, a DEA deputy assistant administrator in the agency’s Diversion Control Division. “A DEA-registered pharmacy may only dispense controlled substances in Schedules II-V of the Controlled Substances Act. Neither marijuana nor THC can lawfully be possessed, handled, or dispensed by any DEA-registered pharmacy.”
Keep in mind that things could change soon on the federal level: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sent an Aug. 19 letter, recommending to the DEA that cannabis be rescheduled and moved to the Schedule III drug category, making the substance legally accessible through a prescription at the federal level, which would make it legal in Georgia pharmacies. Last October, President Joe Biden requested that the HHS secretary and attorney general conduct a review of the classification of cannabis under federal law, and they did so.
“No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said Oct. 6.
Since Georgia only allows low-THC and CBD cannabis products, it’s unlikely people seeking a high are going to go through its medical program.
Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) celebrated the blow to medical cannabis patients in a news release, posting the memo on their website. Opponents said Georgia’s program that supplies low-THC cannabis oil to patients “flies in the face of the position of every major medical association.”
NORML explains that Georgia’s low-THC medical cannabis law only allows for cannabis oils containing not more than 5% THC and an amount of CBD equal to or greater than the amount of THC. Today strains of cannabis in other states can exceed 30% THC. And then in Georgia, it has to be stored in a pharmaceutical container labeled by the manufacturer indicating the percentage of THC.
“The Georgia Pharmacy Board’s move to allow the sale of THC oils over the counter in drugstores is a disaster for public health because it implies an FDA endorsement of these dangerous, psychoactive products that can have very serious consequences for users, especially young people,” said SAM President Kevin Sabet. “The DEA’s repudiation of this policy is good news for consumers, and I applaud their affirming the federal government’s position that marijuana is not medicine.
“As we’ve stated clearly throughout this debate, THC drugs are not medicine and federal law makes clear sales of marijuana and non-prescription THC drugs are illegal.The Board’s decision to allow pharmacies to dispense unregulated THC oils flies in the face of the position of every major medical association, Surgeons General appointed by both parties, the FDA, and the DEA.
“Unlike with prescription medications, there is no legitimate dosing regimen or other quality control mechanism in place for these drugs. THC oils are often so high in potency that any level of consumption could be dangerous to physical and mental health. Pharmacies found to be violating federal law should be shut down immediately and face the harshest penalties under the law.”
Georgia’s own anti-cannabis reform organization, Georgians for Responsible Marijuana Policy, also responded.
“I imagine, in the short term, the pharmacies who started dispensing medical marijuana would have to stop or risk a confrontation with the DEA,” Michael Mumper of Georgians for Responsible Marijuana Policy told 11Alive. “You know, there’s always been that tension between marijuana being illegal at the national level, while 38 states have approved it for medical reasons and 24 now for recreational reasons. There was always that tension about where is the federal government going to draw the line. Where Georgia went the furthest is that they were the first state in the country to have pharmacies dispense medical marijuana. And so I think they just pushed the DEA to a certain point.”
But Georgia’s pharmacies supply patients, often who have run out of options.
“We believe that this is an important thing,” Ira Katz of Little Five Points Pharmacy in Atlanta told 11Alive a month ago, “because who better than your independent pharmacist, who knows your history and knows your medical history, is able to best dispense medical marijuana?”
It’s unlikely Georgia pharmacies will be able to continue dispensing cannabis oil as-is.
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