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Georgia Medical Marijauna in Pharmacies

DEA Thwarts Georgia's Bid to Pioneer Medical Cannabis in Pharmacies

Jan 1, 2024 

Author: Arlin Vartanian

In a decisive blow to Georgia's groundbreaking ambitions in the realm of medical cannabis, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has halted the state's efforts to authorize independent  pharmacies to dispense medicinal marijuana. Georgia, poised to become the inaugural U.S. state to take the progressive step in allowing pharmacists to dispense medical marijuana, now faces a setback in its mission to expand access and streamline the distribution of therapeutic cannabis products.

What’s new with Georgia medical cannabis?

Georgia, up until this DEA announcement, was set to become the first state to offer medical marijuana at independent pharmacies. The move aims to increase accessibility to low THC oil, limited to 5% THC in GA, for patients with specific severe illnesses. Over 120 pharmacies have applied for a license, which would drastically improve medical cannabis access to a majority of Georgia's population.

The initiative, a beacon of hope for patients seeking alternative treatments, was a pivotal stride toward normalizing medical cannabis usage within the confines of established pharmaceutical channels. Advocates heralded the proposal as a bridge between traditional medicine and holistic remedies, potentially transforming the landscape of healthcare for many individuals grappling with chronic conditions. As of early 2022, millions of people in the United States were reported to use cannabis regularly. According to surveys and estimates, over 50 million American adults had used cannabis within the past year, and roughly 20-30 million were considered regular users.

Georgia’s medical marijuana law and independent pharmacies

The proposal by the state of Georgia sought to leverage the accessibility and infrastructure of pharmacies, aligning the distribution of medical cannabis with the established framework governing other prescription medications. This integration was envisioned as a pivotal means to ensure stringent oversight, quality control, and professional guidance in the dispensation of cannabis-based treatments. 

The inclusion of pharmacists in the dispensation and oversight of medical cannabis holds promise in ensuring safe, informed, and effective use of cannabis-based therapies within the healthcare system. Their expertise adds a layer of professionalism, guidance, and safety crucial for patients seeking alternative treatment options.

Pharmacists are highly trained professionals knowledgeable about medications, drug interactions, and dosing, all areas of concern with medical cannabis. Their expertise can provide patients with valuable guidance on different cannabis products, dosages, potential interactions with other medications, and administration methods. 

In the current framework of cannabis dispensing, “budtenders” are relied on to dispense, educate, and provide recommendations for medicinal use. Unlike pharmacists, who are highly trained and operate within a regulated healthcare framework, the cannabis industry lacks standardized qualifications or even entry level requirements for budtenders. This absence of formalized training means that the quality and accuracy of information provided by budtenders can vary significantly, oftentimes to the behest of patients.

Georgia's endeavor was grounded in the desire to provide patients with safe, regulated access to cannabis-derived therapies while circumventing the pitfalls of the traditional dispensary model. By integrating these products into pharmacies, the state aimed to destigmatize their use and enhance their accessibility and improve patient safety.

However, the DEA's intervention serves as a formidable roadblock in the processes, citing federal regulations that classify cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance. This classification deems cannabis as having a high potential for abuse and no federally recognized medical usage, a stance that contradicts the growing body of evidence and societal acceptance of its therapeutic benefits.

Federal legalization not keeping up with states like Georgia

The DEA's obstruction of Georgia's progressive move is another bump in the road of the enduring conflict between federal law and states' rights regarding cannabis legislation. While many states have enacted their own laws to permit medical cannabis use, the incongruity with federal regulations remains a significant obstacle, stifling innovation and impeding broader access to alternative therapies.

In the wake of this setback, advocates, lawmakers, and proponents of medical cannabis in Georgia find themselves at a crossroads. The decision by the DEA underscores the pressing need for comprehensive federal cannabis reform to better align regulations with evolving societal perspectives and scientific advancements regarding cannabis's medicinal potential. And specifically the advancements for the role of  pharmacists which are currently underutilized in most states. 

Georgia's aspiration to lead the integration of medical cannabis into pharmacies represented a paradigm shift in healthcare, promising increased accessibility and professionalism in its distribution. However, the road toward realizing this vision is clearly fraught with legal complexities and regulatory hurdles, underscoring the imperative for cohesive federal action to reconcile these disparities.

As the nation grapples with the evolving landscape of cannabis legislation and its implications for healthcare, the struggles in Georgia serve as a poignant reminder of the incongruence  between state autonomy and federal oversight. Pharmacists must continue to advocate for expansion of their roles in the growing field of medicinal cannabis to ensure patient safety within their communities. 

  1. Dattani S, Mohr H. Pharmacists' role in cannabis dispensing and counseling. Can Pharm J (Ott). 2018;152(1):14-15. Published 2018 Dec 17. doi:10.1177/1715163518813314

  2. Federal agency quashes Georgia’s plan to let pharmacies sell medical marijuana. ABC News. Published December 17, 2023.

  3. Stevens B. Landmark Bill Allowing Medical Cannabis to Be Sold in Pharmacies Quashed by DEA in Georgia. Business of Cannabis. Published December 19, 2023.

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