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Georgia will be first state with medical marijuana in pharmacies

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Medical marijuana will soon be sold at independent pharmacies across Georgia, making it the first state in the nation to offer cannabis products at drugstores and vastly increasing access for registered patients.

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.

Expansion of medical marijuana into pharmacies will put low THC oil within reach of many more patients, adding to the state’s seven dispensaries that have opened since April.

About 90% of Georgia’s population will be within a 30-minute drive of a pharmacy selling medical marijuana when they open, according to Botanical Sciences.

“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.”

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 have no more than 5% THC, the compound that gives users a high.

Patients will be able to buy cannabis oil at pharmacies if they show a state-issued low THC oil registry card and ID. The drug will be kept secure along with prescription medications.

“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.”

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 navigate the government process of creating 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.”

Trulieve, which is also licensed by the state to produce medical marijuana, has its own plans to work with independent pharmacies. Trulieve hasn’t disclosed how many pharmacies would sell its products.

“The medical community and our legislators are accepting medical cannabis as a valid medicine and want to bring it into the medical sphere,” said William Troutt, Trulieve’s medical director. “It’s a sign of the times that these medical cannabis programs are being accepted.”

There are over 400 independent pharmacies in Georgia, and Marquess said he expects a majority of them will be interested in selling low THC oil. The product isn’t being sold by national drugstores such as 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.”

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 its approval.

©2023 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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