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June 3, 2016
Progress has been made in Georgia as people suffering from certain medical conditions are now able to use medical marijuana products to alleviate their symptoms. However, since Georgia is a conservative state—the use of marijuana for medical reasons is currently the only type of marijuana use permitted. In addition, these products are often oil based and contain cannabidiol, but are designed to contain very low amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (this chemical provides the sensation that smokers of cannabis achieve when they smoke the drug).
That said, using marijuana as a recreational drug is absolutely not permitted in Georgia. In fact, Georgia’s state laws are amongst the most punitive in the country. Possession even for personal use of just one ounce or less is punishable by up to 12 months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $1,000 under O.C.G.A. § 16-13-2(b). Possession with intent to distribute 10 pounds or less of marijuana is a felony that can carry a sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment, as is the sale of the drug under O.C.G.A. § 16-13-30(j). Cultivation of the drug and possession of hash, the stronger version of marijuana, is also strictly punished.
In light of this, it is unsurprising that Georgia has been late in following the rest of the country in enacting a law that permits the use of medical marijuana. In April 2006, in Pennsylvania, Senate Bill 3 was signed into law. This law permits the manufacture and use of authorized products to patients with specific conditions like Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord damage and cancer. Patients across the country have been able to use medical marijuana products for a while now. Only Minnesota and New York have similar restrictions in place.
Georgia’s current medical marijuana bill aims to broaden the program to include more medical conditions. The Bill, HB722, has been discussed in the Georgia General Assembly. It’s concerned with expanding the original program, and even removing the limits placed on the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol contained in products. Despite the extensive support for medical marijuana (which extensive polls have revealed), key provisions were removed as the Bill advanced through the House. Currently, patients not on the list are forced to travel to other states to receive marijuana treatment, then return with it to Georgia. This is a breach of federal law, and quite possibly a violation of the laws of other states. In this way, patients suffering from serious medical conditions are being placed at risk of falling foul of the law (and potentially negatively impacting their employment as well).
The current law provides no protection for employment discrimination, although it does provide explicit support for employers. The law states that employers are not required to accommodate the use of marijuana. It says that they are entitled to implement a zero tolerance policy on its use, and prohibit any employee from having any detectable traces of marijuana in their system. This affects lawful users with medical conditions, which the law has failed to address. Employees may find themselves facing difficult situations where their employment and medical rights clash. In facing such a situation, the most appropriate action for an employee to take will be to contact a skilled attorney who can help to navigate these complications.