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Federal Agency Quashes Georgia's Plan to Let Pharmacies Sell Medical Marijuana

Georgia lets patients with medical needs buy medical marijuana products with up to 5% THC.

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

ATLANTA (AP) — Federal drug officials are warning Georgia to shelve its plans to be the first state to allow pharmacies to dispense medical marijuana products.

News outlets report that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on Nov. 27 warned pharmacies that dispensing medical marijuana violates federal law.

The Georgia Board of Pharmacy began accepting applications to dispense the products in October. Licenses have already been issued to 23 Georgia independent pharmacies, the board said.

The Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, which oversees Georgia's fledgling medical marijuana industry, said it can't override the federal directive, even though pharmacies are allowed to dispense the products under state law.

Andrew Turnage, the commission's executive director, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the state would love to see pharmacists be allowed to continue providing consultations for medical cannabis products as they do with other medication.

In a memo to pharmacies, the DEA said none of them can lawfully possess, handle or dispense marijuana or related products containing more than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol — the psychoactive chemical known as THC that gives users a high.

Georgia lets patients with medical needs buy medical marijuana products with up to 5% THC. Marijuana sold for recreational use typically has a higher level.

The DEA said it considers products derived from the cannabis plant with a THC content above 0.3% to be marijuana, making it illegal under federal drug law.

Georgia has allowed patients with certain illnesses and physician approval to possess and consume low-THC medical cannabis products since 2015. But until April, there was no legal way for them to buy the product in Georgia.

Nationwide, 24 states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Another 23 allow some form of medical cannabis.

The recent DEA notice was published online by the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which generally opposes marijuana legalization.

Ira Katz of Little Five Points Pharmacy in Atlanta told WXIA-TV that he thought pharmacies like his should able to dispense the products in the same way marijuana dispensaries do.

"It just doesn't make any sense to me that people can go to a dispensary and not to a pharmacy," he said. "We would be buying it from the same growers."

Mahlon Davidson, interim CEO of the Georgia Pharmacy Association, said he doubted independent pharmacists would risk imperiling their businesses by flouting the DEA.

"The current conflict between state and federal law puts Georgia's pharmacies in a difficult position," the Georgia Pharmacy Association wrote in a letter to pharmacists, adding that the association is "putting forth the maximum effort to help provide timely information and assist in navigating this issue."

Those who oppose rapid legalization of marijuana said the DEA's stance will protect consumers and allow time for more research.

Michael Mumper, the executive director of the nonprofit Georgians for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said consumers trust that drugs dispensed from pharmacies are fully tested, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and federally legal. Mumper said that's not the case with medical marijuana.

But the federal stance could change if a recent proposal to loosen restrictions on marijuana goes through. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in August proposed taking marijuana off the banned list of Schedule I substances and reclassifying it as a lower-risk Schedule III drug.

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