Comp and Cannabis: Access to Medical Marijuana in GA and the ‘Gaping Hole’ Issue of How to Obtain It

09.13.2017


By Dara Barney

This is the first article in WorkersCompensation.com's “Comp and Cannabis” series, as Editor Dara Barney explores medical marijuana legislation state-by-state, and what it means regarding workers’ compensation.

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Georgia State Representative Allen Peake gets pot delivered to his office. Okay, he is a registered card carrier for medical marijuana, and it is cannabinoid (CBD) oil at less than five percent THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol, which very low on the potency scale, but users attest it maintains healing qualities.

Why does he get CBD oil delivered to his office? Back in 2015, he helped pass HB 1 in the state, allowing properly registered users to intake this oil and only this oil if they have certain ailments. Recently, the bill was expanded to include autism, AIDs, turrets syndrome, Alzheimer’s and people in hospice care, to name a few. But there is one problem.

“We have a gaping hole in the air. Where do you access this product?” he told WorkersCompensation.com recently. You can’t grow it, and you can’t cross state lines to get it. Also there isn’t anyone currently in the state who manufactures that specific kind of oil.

So in the short term, the oil gets delivered to his office once or twice a month, and gets dispersed to the registered people who really need it. “It’s all legal per the state of Georgia. We don’t sell it; we give it to registered card holders for free. I don’t know how it gets here, and if (Attorney General Jeff) Sessions decided to come after people like us it wouldn’t be good. But who wants to interfere with aiding someone in their debilitating illness?” he said. 

“Short term, we need to come up with a cultivation model in Georgia, so we can provide a lab-tested product, and ensure everything can be measured and it was made the right way. Maybe a partnership with a higher learning institution, like the University of Georgia (UGA). We might need to wait until the 2018 governor race to see if we can elect someone who can support us,” Rep. Peake noted.

PRIUM Senior Vice President and “RxProfessor” Mark Pew, who resides in Georgia when he isn’t presenting most of the year, said there is some confusion to how many states have legalized the drug in a medical capacity. 

“I think people just don’t have the right data. 42 total states have legalized medical marijuana (most people just say 29 plus Washington, DC), with 14 states providing for limited access to medical marijuana as in Georgia,” he said.   

Rep. Peake said other applications, including creams and vaping could be worth considering at some point, but he wanted to make it very clear he didn’t support the recreational use of marijuana in the state. He also acknowledged another problem at the forefront.

“We have an opioid epidemic among us, both in the state of Georgia and nationally. David Bradford, a professor at UGA at the School of Public Policy, published a peer-reviewed paper on the states that have legalized medical marijuana. A reduction in opioid usage, abuse and over-prescription was observed. I really do think we have reasonable means to the start of a solution here,” he said. 

Pew agreed on both fronts. “Recreational use is completely different from medical use. Recreationally you are trying to get stoned, like trying to get drunk when you drink. That is where part of the stigma comes from.”

He also touched on the opioid epidemic. “The New York Times estimated that 59,000 to 65,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016. Anecdotally, if people are feeling better through legal medical marijuana use by their state’s rules, and work comp pays less for it, as a second or third line of treatment, it might really help.” Pew advocated for, in a “perfect world,” alternative treatments to be tried though “bio-psycho-social” means, including rehab, exercising, nutrition, yoga, etc. “People don’t die from walking too much. And once you start walking, you might feel better.”

“It’s a mixed bag, marijuana. You don’t want to trade one addictive drug for another, and have a patient turn into a wake-n-baker who has to get high as soon as they wake up. You run a risk of creating another dependence, and that is why things like the CBD oil, or products with less THC, that have no psychotropic effect, are being increasingly considered as reasonable and necessary by workers’ comp,” he said.

Rep. Peake asked Georgia employers to start paying attention: “Absent federal direction, employers need to work with employees and the state so everyone can come to some fair terms. It isn’t about this cart blanche idea where you test positive, even though you are a registered card carrier, and you’re fired. We have to work together.”

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Watch for the quarterly “Hot Seat” webinar scheduled to run Sept. 29, which will feature hosts WorkersCompensation.com CEO Bob Wilson and Florida Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims David Langham. This month’s topic will be “Opioids and Formularies: Going to Pot?” Guests will be Pew, and Texas Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Ryan Brannan. Registration is available here.  

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