Georgia Medical Cannabis Officials Contemplate Response to DEA Threat Against Pharmacies

DEA Threat Pharmacies: What’s the Buzz in the World of Cannabis Dispensaries?

DEA Threat Pharmacies: What’s the Buzz in the World of Cannabis Dispensaries?

Hey there, fellow cannabis enthusiasts! Today, we’re diving into the intriguing world of cannabis pharmacies and a surprising twist involving the DEA’s ominous warnings. Strap in for a rollercoaster ride through the highs and lows of this developing story.

The Unexpected Warning from the DEA

So, picture this: you’re a pharmacy owner in Georgia, eagerly jumping on board with the state’s marijuana program. Everything seems promising, but then, out of nowhere, you receive a letter from the Enforcement Administration (DEA). It’s not a warm, fuzzy “welcome to the club” letter; it’s more like a “brace yourself for trouble” letter.

In late November, the DEA sent letters to pharmacies across Georgia, throwing a serious curveball into the state’s plans. The essence of the letter? Federal-registered pharmacies, it stated, can only dispense substances listed in Schedules II-V of the Controlled Substances Act. And guess what? Marijuana and THC don’t make the cut.

Georgia’s Innovative Approach to Medical Cannabis

Now, let’s backtrack a bit. Georgia is doing something pretty unique in the realm of medical marijuana. They’re the first state to explore distributing medical cannabis through existing pharmacies, the ones you typically associate with dispensing prescription drugs. Around 120 independent pharmacies in the state have applied to join the cannabis party.

This move is significant for several reasons. It’s all about expanding patient access to medical cannabis, especially in rural areas where dispensaries might be few and far between. The state currently has only nine licensed dispensaries in operation, but there are 23 pharmacists ready and approved to provide medical marijuana.

The State’s Response: A Mix of Resolve and Concern

Despite the DEA’s ominous warnings, Georgia’s Access to Medical Cannabis Commission (GMCC) isn’t backing down. They’re standing tall in their mission to ensure access to medical cannabis for all Georgia patients.

GMCC Chair Sid Johnson reassured everyone that they’re committed to implementing the Hope Act, which expanded the state’s medical marijuana program. They’re also fully supportive of the Board of Pharmacy’s role in licensing pharmacists for medical cannabis dispensation.

Behind the Scenes: Weighing Legal Action

GMCC’s general counsel, Jansen Head, hinted at the possibility of legal . While she didn’t explicitly say “lawsuit,” it’s clear that they’re not taking the DEA’s warnings lightly. Any legal action would likely come from the state attorney general’s office, and coordination with other agencies is crucial.

One intriguing angle is the congressionally approved budget rider. This rider prevents the federal government from interfering with state-legal medical marijuana programs. Essentially, it restricts the Department of Justice (DOJ) from using its resources to hinder states from implementing their own medical marijuana laws.

Head pointed out that more than half of Georgia’s access points for medical relief—pharmacies—are at risk of no longer providing this much-needed medicine to patients. It’s a complex situation, and they’re actively working on a response.

Pharmacies in the Crosshairs

One member of GMCC, Prather, who also happens to be a pharmacist, saw the DEA’s letter as a direct threat to pharmacies. It essentially said, “Dispense this product, and we’ll pull your DEA permit.” That’s no small matter, considering how crucial pharmacies are to Georgia’s plan for medical cannabis distribution.

The Call for Federal Reform

Andrew Turnage, executive director of GMCC, emphasized the need for federal government regarding cannabis. He acknowledged that it’s a federal issue, and they don’t have the authority to intervene directly. Instead, he encouraged everyone to reach out to their members of Congress to express their concerns.

Crickets from Capitol Hill

So, GMCC reached out to members of Georgia’s U.S. delegation for comment, but the response was somewhat underwhelming. Representative Buddy Carter highlighted the DEA’s stance, indicating that pharmacies dispensing certain THC products are in violation of federal law. The silence from other members of Congress was noticeable.

On the Senate side, Sen. Raphael Warnock’s staff remained silent on the matter, and Sen. Jon Ossoff’s office declined to comment. It seems like the issue isn’t gaining much on Capitol Hill.

Georgia’s Approach Recognized by Other States

Interestingly, GMCC’s pharmacy plan received attention at a meeting of the Cannabis Association. Regulators from other states saw the potential of Georgia’s approach, considering it a model.

Support poured in from other states, with regulators offering their assistance and resources if Georgia faces challenges in response to the DEA’s letter. It’s heartening to see states supporting each other in navigating these uncharted waters.

The Patient-Centric Perspective

One crucial point that often gets overshadowed in these discussions is the on patients. Bill Bornstein, a doctor and chief medical officer at Emory Healthcare, raised a valid concern. While he believes there are many unanswered questions about THC’s safety, he recognizes the potential benefits for patients.

Physicians, unlike pharmacies, don’t technically prescribe marijuana but rather certify that a patient has a qualifying condition for the program. This crucial distinction means that physicians may not be directly affected by the DEA’s threats.

Georgia’s Bold Move: Pharmacies as Cannabis Distributors

Georgia’s Board of Pharmacy started accepting applications from independent pharmacies to dispense low-THC cannabis oil in October. This move aimed to improve patient access, especially in areas with limited dispensary options.

Botanical Sciences, one of the state’s licensed producers, saw several pharmacies begin dispensing their products by late October. The company plans to open over 100 more locations soon, potentially bringing medical cannabis closer to 90% of Georgians within a 30-minute drive.

DEA vs. Rescheduling: A Complex Dance

Now, let’s circle back to the DEA’s warning letters. These letters came amid the DEA’s ongoing review of a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommendation to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. This potential rescheduling, reportedly to Schedule III, has created quite a buzz.

While the Congressional Research Service suggests that the DEA is likely to follow HHS recommendations, the DEA holds the final say. They can choose to disregard the health agency’s advice because they have ultimate jurisdiction over the Controlled Substances Act.

HHS’s Secretive Review

HHS has been tight-lipped about the details of their review, which makes the situation even more intriguing. In October, they revealed a one-page version of the rescheduling memo, heavily redacted to keep key information hidden. Recently, the government released a 252-page batch of documents related to the review, again with most information concealed.

The new documents highlight modern scientific considerations and epidemiological data related to marijuana abuse. HHS is examining whether marijuana has a currently accepted medical use and analyzing data on its abuse potential.

Governors’ Plea for Rescheduling

Earlier this month, six Democratic governors sent a letter to the Biden administration, urging them to complete the rescheduling process by year-end. Rescheduling could open the door for pharmacies to dispense marijuana, but FDA approval would still be required for distribution.

The governors argue that rescheduling aligns with safe, regulated products that Americans can trust. They cite strong public support for legalization, emphasizing the need to support state-regulated cannabis markets.

The FDA Hurdle

Even if THC moves to Schedule III, the FDA would need to approve marijuana-based drugs before they could be legally distributed in registered pharmacies like those in Georgia. This step adds another layer of complexity to the already convoluted process.

Conclusion: Navigating Choppy Waters

And there you have it, folks! The world of cannabis in Georgia is facing unexpected challenges from the DEA, and the future remains uncertain. The state is determined to provide medical cannabis access to its patients, but the road ahead is full of twists and turns.

As we wrap up this conversation, I’d like to extend a big thanks to Ben Adlin for bringing us this intriguing story. Stay tuned for more updates on the evolving landscape of medical cannabis.

Until next time, toke responsibly and stay informed!

Rosemary Puffman
I'm Rosemary, a staunch supporter of cannabis legalization and its potential benefits. My roles as a writer, cannabis entrepreneur, and informed investor allow me to contribute to the evolving narrative around cannabis. Through my writing, I aim to destigmatize and educate, while my business ventures and strategic investments align with my belief in the positive impact of responsible cannabis use.

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