Why All The Secrecy Around This State’s Medical Cannabis Program?

You need to be a detective to find a doctor for cannabis in this state. Why have lawmakers made things so difficult for residents in Georgia?

As more states around the country look at medical cannabis, many tend to think of states with laws in place as having done their part. But that is far from the case. What Georgia has in place as a so-called medical cannabis system remains anything but user-friendly. And even patients who meet eligibility under the law are furious. So what’s with the secrecy in this state’s system?

What are you covered for in Georgia?

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Only 8 conditions fall under coverage in Georgia:

  1. Mitochondrial disease
  2. Multiple sclerosis
  3. Cancer
  4. Crohn’s disease
  5. Sickle cell
  6. Sclerosis
  7. Parkinson’s disease
  8. Seizure disorders

As a patient with one of these conditions, you get a medical card. But what is it worth? Very little. The card only protects you from going to jail for low-THC cannabis oil if caught. You don’t get access to medicine. To get medicine, you have to go out of state on your own and violate Federal law to transport it across state lines to bring it home. A Georgia card won’t protect you along the way, only at home.

Finding a doctor to verify you

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So how does one go about getting a card for their condition? Good luck. Only about 2% of the state’s doctors have signed up for the registry that authorizes them to sign off on a patient’s eligibility to use cannabis oil. That means in the entire state, only 274 doctors possess the necessary registration.

Finding one of them proves even more difficult. As part of the law, the names and locations of those doctors are kept confidential. So you can’t just look one up. Right now, the only way patients get ahold of one is by networking amongst themselves to find out who will give them the seal of approval. Sebastien Cotte, a medical cannabis advocate, says,

At least once a week, we get a parent or patient asking us, ‘Hey, I can’t get a doctor.’

Only 800 patients have found success, but tens of thousands are linked to medical cannabis advocacy groups in the state. That low level of participation only helps lawmakers to continue avoiding expansion of the program.

From a doctor’s point of view

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Dr. Robert Whipple is one of the few doctors who can actually certify a patient for the program. He spoke with the Dalton Daily Citizen about the sticky situation patients and doctors find themselves in.

I think people are nervous and scared… Most physicians, I think, are just trying to be safe. There’s nothing to be safe from, that’s the thing. The law protects us.

It was great that they passed the law, but they sort of left out a lot of the other pieces, such as how do you obtain it, how do you dose it, all those kinds of things.

Whipple said that most patients who come in know more about cannabis than the doctors. Doctor’s don’t provide information about dosing, methods of use, brands, or strains.

There’s a lot more work to be done to make this actually work and work for the patients and be accessible to those who need it.

Another doctor on the registry says he hasn’t signed up a single patient. Dr. Charles Adams in northwest Georgia said after learning he can’t help them actually get the oil,

They realize, ‘Hey, I don’t need you,’ and they’re right.

Virtually useless

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A doctor’s note and cannabis card don’t give access to medicine, only limited protections from prosecution. Autism, another serious condition which many families are turning to cannabis to treat, isn’t on the list. But that won’t stop caring parents from obtaining the oil. For them, and so many others, the law is worthless.

Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, who sponsored the law starting the program, said that the anonymity for doctors was put in place amid concerns that patients would shop around for doctors. That worked out great, didn’t it?

Over concern shuts down progress

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Peake also pushed for changes that would let cannabis be cultivated and distributed in-state earlier this year. An in-state program would at least allow eligible patients to readily access the medicine. However, the proposal was quickly shut down amid concerns from several major sources.

Lawmakers, the governor, and law enforcement said going against federal law (like so many other states already do) was simply too risky. They also claimed it would open the door to recreational use in the state.

To be fair, they are right. In-state cultivation, with the safety, jobs, taxes, and visual presence it would lend the issue, would inevitably further the cause of activists. But that doesn’t mean it would be a bad thing for the people, only the prohibitionists disguising themselves as concerned representatives of the will of the people.

Will Georgia ever get their act together and provide tangible help to patients? Share your thoughts on social media or in the comments below.