Could Georgia legalize marijuana in 2022?

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A state Senate committee held a hearing Thursday on three legislative proposals related to marijuana ranging from expanding Georgia’s medical marijuana program to legalizing recreational use of the drug.

But in the conservative General Assembly, the odds of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee voting on any of the measures are long at best.

Sen. Sheikh Rahman, D-Lawrenceville, has introduced a constitutional amendment calling for a statewide referendum asking voters to decide whether to legalize the production and sale of marijuana in Georgia for the recreational use of adults ages 21 and older.

Tax revenue from marijuana sales would be dedicated to education and transportation infrastructure.

An accompanying bill would spell out how the production and sale of marijuana would be regulated in Georgia, including the licensing process that would govern the industry.

“This would be highly regulated, not just selling out of convenience stores,” Rahman said.

A third bill pertains only to the existing medical marijuana program the General Assembly authorized in 2019. It would broaden the current program by authorizing more dispensaries to sell low-THC cannabis oil and for the first time allow qualifying adult patients in Georgia to receive up to 2 ounces of leafy marijuana along with low-THC oil.

Studies in the 18 states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana have found it has not led to increased use of other drugs, including opioids, Rahman told committee members.

But several opponents of Rahman’s bills who addressed the committee disagreed.

Jeff Breedlove, chief of communications and policy with the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, cited a report from the Colorado Health Institute showing opioid abuse rose in that state after recreational use of marijuana was legalized.

“Any notion that marijuana is not a gateway drug is absurd,” said Breedlove. “This bill is dangerous to the people of Georgia.”

Sen. Frank Ginn, R-Danielsville, said legalizing marijuana also would wreak havoc with commercial trucking in Georgia because of the length of time marijuana stays in a person’s system after using the drug.

“There’s no field sobriety test like there is for alcohol,” he said.

Representatives of a couple of faith-based groups also testified in opposition to legalizing marijuana for recreational use.