CBD’s Flawed Victory: The Georgia Hemp Farming Act

The Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 213, also known as the Georgia Hemp Farming Act, last April. The bill legalizes the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp which creates products such as CBD oil, but only those licensed by the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) can do so. These licenses will be distributed when GDA regulations are approved by the USDA and rules are written to produce hemp. Farmers are not expected to be able to begin growing in 2019; however, higher education institutes may begin research.[1]

Hemp is a member of the cannabis family but does not have the levels of THC that marijuana possesses. CBD does not give users a high and has been legally bought, sold and transported within the state since 2017, and medically used since 2015. It is not legal to use within food.[2] Consequently, CBD became a highly desirable alternative to medical marijuana, which was only legalized within the past year.[3] Currently, CBD is a booming market within the state, both medicinally (to help with ailments such as anxiety, stress, arthritis, and seizures) and recreationally (with more cutting-edge stores including it as an ingredient for coffee, alcoholic beverages and food). The market from hemp derived CBD sales has grown by $416 million from 2016 to 2018. If Congress were to fully legalize hemp, the market could expand to $22 billion by 2022.[4]

The Georgia bill will allow agricultural producers to explore, invest and profit off of the booming CBD market, but only if they meet the regulations. To receive a license, farmers must be a qualified, registered agricultural producer and pass criminal background checks. They must also disclose GPS coordinates for the sites of the crop. The initial license will cost $25,000 the first year and can be renewed annually for $10,000. In addition, it will cost the growers $50 an acre with a maximum fee of $5,000. If farmers fail to meet any part of regulations, they must pay $100,000 to the state; regulations include random tests at fields or facilities. Further, any transfer of goods from grower to producer must be in the form of a written agreement and provided to the state within 10 days.[5]

While this bill offers economic benefits for both manufacturers and farmers, the potential health benefits are often cited as the reason for legalization. Consumers can “take control of their own health” argues Rob Lee, managing partner at GA Xtracts, an industrial hemp manufacturer.[6] As traction increases for not making hemp an illicit substance on the federal level, Georgia lawmakers are now allowing individuals to dictate whether to use hemp products to improve certain conditions and overall health. For example, extensive scientific evidence supports the use of hemp oil to alleviate epileptic seizures. Hemp oil can also be used to treat severe acne and prevent inflammation. Hemp and CBD oil is expected to be covered by health insurance in 2020.[7]

The law also has unintended effects that result in a cultural decriminalization of marijuana. Law enforcement can test for THC present but cannot test for the amount. This means they will not be able to distinguish between illegal marijuana and legal hemp. In turn, several counties have decided not to pursue marijuana related criminal cases. In Gwinnett County, marijuana-related cases are no longer prosecuted because of the illegitimate testing methods and insufficient technology. Gwinnett police will no longer arrest people or issue citations but driving under the influence of THC is still punishable. In Athens-Clarke County, the police department will no longer make physical arrests or citations, but rather confiscate the substance until testing can be done. When testing is available, and if THC is above the legal amount, they will issue an arrest warrant for the individual who possessed it. [8]

Although many lawmakers remain adamant that passing this law does not endorse similar marijuana legalization, the decriminalization effect of the Hemp Bill is a testament to what could be the future of Georgia. Prohibiting police officers from punishing those with non-violent, marijuana-related crimes, a practice that disproportionately affects minority communities,[9] adds more social equity to the bill. Perhaps this law was just what Georgia needed to move the state’s criminal justice system, public health and socioeconomic mobility in the right direction.

 

[1] O’Day, Stephen, and Vickie Chung Ruseck. “Georgia Legislature Passes Hemp Farming and Medical Marijuana Bills.” SGR Law, Apr. 2019, www.sgrlaw.com/client-alerts/georgia-legislature-passes-hemp-farming-and-medical-marijuana-bills/.

[2] “17 States with Legal Cannabidiol (CBD).” Should Marijuana Be a Medical Option?, 2019, medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=006473.

[3] Niesse, Mark. “Hemp Farming Legalized in Georgia.” Atlanta Journalism Constitution, Ajc.com, 27 June 2019, www.ajc.com/news/state–regional-govt–politics/hemp-farming-legalized-georgia/yJVk0O4bzztt9qvfIsGoQL/#.

[4] Niesse, Mark. “Without Legal Way to Buy Medical Marijuana, Georgians Turn to CBD.” Ajc, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3 May 2019, www.ajc.com/news/state–regional-govt–politics/without-legal-way-buy-medical-marijuana-georgians-turn-cbd/gmEJJwVDVFMfqul8h9gSQN/.

[5] Georgia Hemp Farming Act. 2019-2020 Regular Session. Http://Www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/En-US/Display/20192020/HB/213 Congress.

[6] Wheeler, Candace and Grace Walker. Joy Barge. (2019, September 19th). Closer Look: Georgia Manufacturer Explains The Hemp Business; Atlanta Co-Living Startup PadSplit Aims to Provide Affordable Housing Solution [Audio podcast]. https://www.wabe.org/episode/closer-look-georgia-manufacturer-explains-the-hemp-business-atlanta-co-living-startup-padsplit-aims-to-provide-affordable-housing-solution

[7] Johnson, Jon. “What Are the Best Hemp Oil Benefits?” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 2019, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324450.php.

[8] Terrell, Ross. “Georgia Hemp Farming Act Causes Some Counties To Stop Prosecuting Marijuana Cases.” Georgia Public Broadcasting, Aug. 2019, www.gpbnews.org/post/georgia-hemp-farming-act-causes-some-counties-stop-prosecuting-marijuana-cases.

[9]  “Marijuana Arrests by the Numbers.” American Civil Liberties Union, www.aclu.org/gallery/marijuana-arrests-numbers.