The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is warning Georgia not to move forward with its plan to become the first state to allow pharmacies to distribute medical marijuana.
DEA officials told pharmacies that dispensing medical marijuana would violate federal law. The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, which oversees the state’s medical marijuana industry, said it cannot override the federal ban despite state law allowing pharmacies to sell the products.
The Georgia Board of Pharmacy began accepting applications in October for pharmacies to dispense marijuana products. Licenses have already been issued to 23 independent pharmacies in the Peach State.
The state wants pharmacists to be allowed to continue providing consultations for medical cannabis products as they do with other medication, The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission’s executive director Andrew Turnage told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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The DEA said in a memo sent to pharmacies that none of them can lawfully possess, handle or dispense marijuana or related products containing more than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive chemical known as THC that gives people a high.
The DEA memo was published online by the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes marijuana legalization.
Georgia allows patients with medical needs to buy medical marijuana products with up to 5% THC, while marijuana sold for recreational use typically has a higher level.
According to the DEA, products derived from a cannabis plant with a THC content above 0.3% are illegal under federal drug law.
The state has permitted patients with certain illnesses and physician approval to possess and consume low-THC medical cannabis products since 2015, but there was no legal way for them to buy the product in Georgia until 2015.
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Recreational marijuana is legal in 24 states across the country, while another 23 allow some form of medical cannabis, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Ira Katz of Little Five Points Pharmacy in Atlanta told WXIA-TV that he believes pharmacies should be able to dispense marijuana products just like marijuana dispensaries do.
“It just doesn’t make any sense to me that people can go to a dispensary and not to a pharmacy,” he said. “We would be buying it from the same growers.”
While Katz said he understands federal law trumps state law, he believes the DEA’s stance will hurt patients who rely on medical cannabis.
“We’re the most regulated industry in healthcare. That’s what shocked me. That’s what blows me away when it comes to why the DEA is not moving on this. They don’t see what we see here every single day,” Katz said, referring to patients who need the medicine.
The DEA’s stance could change if a recent proposal to ease restrictions on marijuana moves forward. In August, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed taking marijuana off the banned list of Schedule I substances and reclassifying it as a lower-risk Schedule III drug.
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