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(The Center Square) – Georgia's Medical Cannabis Commission Oversight Committee must decide how the state would conduct required testing of cannabis oil before the rollout of the state's medical marijuana program.

The committee was supposed to recommend a process and plan for providing accredited lab testing and labeling of the medical cannabis oil by Aug. 1, according to law, but the program launch has faced delays.

Rep. Micah Gravley, R–Douglasville, said the delays were caused by "unforeseen circumstances," but cannabis trade advocates said the pandemic, understaffing and underfunding were to blame.

Patients with a Low THC Oil Registry card legally can purchase up to 20 fluid ounces of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) oil from licensed dispensaries or pharmacies under legislation signed into law by former Gov. Nathan Deal in 2015.

Gov. Brian Kemp has pushed forward the process since taking office, signing Georgia's Hope Act in April 2019. It created the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission to oversee the regulation of the industry.

The commission picked six companies in July to start producing the plant for medical uses in the state, but the oversight committee must create a process to ensure the oil stays within the potency guidelines of the law. The law allows patients to access medical cannabis oil in the state with no more than 5% THC. THC is the psychoactive compound in cannabis.

Members of the oversight committee reviewed Monday similar programs in Utah and Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Health requires licensed medical cannabis oil manufacturers to contract with labs it approved for screening the oil. Utah's Department of Agriculture is involved in the screening, however.

Members of the oversight committee said they were open to exploring a partnership with Georgia's Department of Agriculture.

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black has filed to run for U.S. Senate in 2022, so the state may have to work with a new head of the department.

"I think that whether it be this legislative session, or in the future, depending on whoever ends up becoming our agriculture commissioner, that we'd be open to talks and working with them, and determining what level of interaction they want to have, and seeing if there's a partnership that can be made going forward," Gravley said. "This is an agricultural product. We're an agricultural state."

The oversight committee plans to examine two other states' programs before developing the plan for Georgia. Without guidelines and a medical marijuana marketplace, the 14,000 registered patients in Georgia have no way of legally obtaining the oil.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for five years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.