ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia soon will become the first state in the nation to offer medical marijuana products at independent pharmacies, state officials said.
The Georgia Board of Pharmacy began accepting applications this week, and nearly 120 pharmacies have agreed to provide medication from Botanical Sciences, one of the state’s two licensed production companies, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. It will likely take a few weeks before medical marijuana is available in pharmacies. After they submit applications, inspections will be required before the board grants approval.
Medical marijuana is only available to Georgians with approval from a physician to treat severe illnesses including seizures, terminal cancers, Parkinson’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder. Low THC oil can contain no more than 5% THC, the compound that gives users a high.
The expansion of medical cannabis sales into drug stores will put low THC oil within reach of many more patients, adding to the state’s seven dispensaries that have opened since April.
Patients will be able to buy cannabis oil at pharmacies if they show a state-issued low THC oil registry card and identification.
“Pharmacists have been fielding questions from patients for years without ever having the ability to do anything about it,” said Gary Long, CEO for Botanical Sciences. “Finally, they have the ability not just to give people advice but provide them with the therapies they’ve been seeking.”
About 90% of Georgia’s population will be within a 30-minute drive of a pharmacy selling medical marijuana when they open, according to the company.
“Pharmacists are a trusted provider, and it’s a way for us to destigmatize this new medicine,” said Mindy Leech, a pharmacist and the owner of Lee-King Pharmacy in Newnan. “It will make people more comfortable if they want to come in and ask questions about it.”
The Georgia General Assembly approved distribution of low THC oil as part of a state law passed in 2019, but it has taken years to create regulations for safety, inspections, licensing and distribution. Gov. Brian Kemp approved rules last month that were passed by the Georgia Board of Pharmacy, clearing the way for pharmacy sales to begin.
The Georgia Department of Public Health recently disclosed it had miscounted and inflated the number of registered medical marijuana patients. Just 14,000 active patients and caregivers are currently signed up, far fewer than the 50,000 previously reported.
“We’re going to have patients that need this health care in some remote parts of Georgia that probably would never have a dispensary near them,” said Jonathan Marquess, vice president for the Georgia Pharmacy Association and the owner of several pharmacies in the Atlanta area. “But they do have a caring professional, a knowledgeable professional pharmacist, in their communities who can talk to them.”
There are over 400 independent pharmacies in Georgia, and Marquess said he expects most of them will be interested in selling low THC oil. The product isn’t being sold by national drugstores like CVS and Walgreens.
Andrew Turnage, executive director for the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, said the pharmacy rule is “definitely big news.”
“It helps both our licensees and especially our patients,” he said. “It will put access in virtually every county in the state.”