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Federal Agency Blocks Georgia’s Pioneering Move to Allow Pharmacies to Sell Medical Marijuana

DEA Warns State Against Dispensing, Citing Violation of Federal Law

In a significant setback for Georgia’s ambitions, federal drug officials have intervened, cautioning the state to abandon its plans to become the first in the nation to permit pharmacies to distribute medical marijuana products.

Federal Agency Blocks Georgia's Pioneering Move to Allow Pharmacies to Sell Medical Marijuana
Federal Agency Blocks Georgia’s Pioneering Move to Allow Pharmacies to Sell Medical Marijuana

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a warning on Nov. 27, asserting that dispensing medical marijuana through pharmacies contradicts federal law. Despite Georgia’s state-level authorization for such distribution, the DEA’s directive has prompted a reassessment of the nascent medical marijuana industry.

The Georgia Board of Pharmacy had begun accepting applications in October, resulting in 23 independent pharmacies securing licenses. However, the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission, responsible for overseeing the state’s medical marijuana sector, expressed its inability to override the federal directive.

Andrew Turnage, the commission’s executive director, emphasized the state’s desire to enable pharmacists to provide consultations for medical cannabis, similar to their role in dispensing other medications. However, the federal warning has created a legal dilemma, and pharmacies are now urged to reconsider their involvement in dispensing medical marijuana.

The DEA’s memo clarifies that pharmacies cannot lawfully handle or dispense marijuana or related products containing more than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound responsible for the “high” associated with cannabis use. Georgia permits medical marijuana products with up to 5% THC for patients with specific medical needs.

While Georgia legalized low-THC medical cannabis products in 2015, legal avenues for purchase within the state were established only in April. The recent DEA notice highlights the ongoing conflict between state and federal laws regarding marijuana, a substance legalized for recreational use in 24 states and allowed for medical purposes in 23 others.

The Georgia Pharmacy Association acknowledged the challenging position of pharmacies, caught between conflicting state and federal regulations. Some pharmacists, like Ira Katz of Little Five Points Pharmacy in Atlanta, expressed confusion over the disparity between dispensaries and pharmacies, stating, “It just doesn’t make any sense to me that people can go to a dispensary and not to a pharmacy.”

The Georgia Pharmacy Association reassured pharmacists that it is actively working to provide timely information and assistance amid the evolving situation.

Opponents of rapid marijuana legalization welcomed the DEA’s stance, asserting that it safeguards consumers and allows time for further research. Michael Mumper, the executive director of Georgians for Responsible Marijuana Policy, emphasized the importance of consumer trust in drugs dispensed from pharmacies, implying that medical marijuana lacks the rigorous testing and federal approval typical of pharmaceuticals.

However, the federal stance on marijuana could undergo change if a recent proposal to loosen restrictions gains traction. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggested in August the reclassification of marijuana from a Schedule I to a lower-risk Schedule III substance, potentially altering the landscape of federal regulations on the drug.

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