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Bill to regulate hemp products in Georgia awaits governor’s signature while some hope for veto

Credit: iStock

by Chaya Tong, Georgia Recorder
April 23, 2024

A bill regulating hemp products, licensing and restricting their purchase to customers 21 and older awaits its fate on Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk after state lawmakers successfully passed it during this year’s legislative session. 

The bill, related to “The Georgia Hemp Farming Act” and sponsored by Republican Moultrie Sen. Sam Watson, would require testing for all hemp-derived products, including CBD and Delta-8 edibles and drinks, and prohibit sales to minors. The Senate sent the bill to the governor late in the session, and he has until May 7 to sign it, veto it or allow it to become law without taking action. 

“Once the General Assembly adjourns, the Governor has 40 days to act on legislation. During that time, all bills that reached final passage undergo a thorough review process,” the governor’s spokesperson Garrison Douglas said in a statement.

Watson says the bill is a step forward in consumer protection, treating hemp products the same as any other food product in the state.

“We regulate tobacco, we regulate alcohol, we regulate food, yet we’ve got a ton of these products out there now that we’re not regulating as a state to protect the people of our state,” he said. 

The new age restrictions will help protect children from accidentally consuming marijuana products, Watson said.

“Kids go into these gas stations and buy gas and this stuff is being sold and nobody knows what’s in it and nobody’s checking it and that’s just scary,” Watson added.

Opponents of the bill are urging Gov. Kemp to stop it from becoming law.

Gaylord Lopez, executive director of the Georgia Poison Center, said that in the past three years, the center has received more than 260 calls from children falling ill from Delta-8.

“I’m really disappointed in where this bill ended up going,” he said. “What our legislators have done is basically legalize the sale of marijuana.”

While the bill prohibits sales to Georgians under 21 and requires better labeling, it does not prevent the synthetic manipulation of hemp that creates derivatives such as Delta-8 or Delta-10, Lopez said, citing language in the bill that allows for the sale of hemp derivatives including flowers or leaves.

“This is not a bill that helps protect consumers. This continues to allow dangerous products that contain THC, that cause psychoactive effects, and are causing children to be poisoned,” Lopez added.

From the cannabis industry itself, organizations like Georgia Medical Cannabis Society are also asking Kemp to veto the bill. Yolanda Bennett, co-founder of the society, said that increased cannabis regulation and testing will shut down mom and pop shops. 

“Consumers won’t be able to afford it, retailers won’t be able to afford to eat the product on shelves, processors [will] be run out of business and farmers will end up growing other crops and leave the hemp,” she said.

The bill would also close the so-called THCA loophole by including it in testing, which would limit the medical marijuana industry.

Opponents also worry about law enforcement’s reaction to the bill if the governor signs it.

Tom Church, an Atlanta criminal defense attorney who represents hemp vendors, says one concern about the bill is that sheriffs will go rogue and prosecute legal CBD sellers like back alley drug dealers.

“I’m tired of seeing normal business folks, law abiding citizens charged and treated like marijuana dealers under the law,” Church said. 

Watson said that the bill is just the first step in legislation regulating hemp in Georgia.

Meanwhile, Lopez urges the Legislature to close loopholes allowing hemp derivatives to hit the market.

“Our legislators are our ardent fans of not legalizing marijuana. Well, when you tell them hemp can be converted into marijuana, no one seems to be listening,” Lopez said. “We need to get them more aware. Poisonings will continue to happen.”

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This story is republished from Georgia Recorder under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.