THC oil bill 324 draws concerns from sheriffs

Catoosa County Sheriff Gary Sisk, at podium, speaks about House Bill 324 during a special called press conference. Sisk and multiple other sheriffs from neighboring counties expressed concerns about the bill, which would allow for the cultivation and harvesting of medical marijuana oil. The Georgia House approved the bill by a 123-40 vote. The bill will now move on to the Senate.

Several North Georgia sheriffs held a press conference Monday, March 4, to voice their concerns about proposed legislation that would allow the growing of cannabis and sale of THC oil in the state.

Catoosa County Sheriff Gary Sisk organized the press conference at his department. The event featured support from sheriffs in neighboring Walker, Whitfield, Dade, Chattooga, and Gordon counties.

The proposed legislation, House Bill 324, was passed Tuesday, March 5, in Atlanta by the Georgia House allowing the cultivation and harvesting of cannabis and hemp products for the use in producing low THC oil. The bill will now move on to the Senate.

The bill, which was approved by a 123-40 vote, would permit the growing of medical marijuana, testing, manufacturing and distribution.

Since 2015, those suffering from cancer, seizures, and other illnesses have been able to use medical marijuana oil. The bill would essentially make the oil more accessible for those in need.

During press conference Sheriff Sisk said some of his biggest concerns pertained to how it would impact the underground or "black market," multiple manufacturers popping up in the community, and those with criminal history getting involved in the business.

"We've already seen from other states that've gone down this route that it does not do away with the black market. It only enhances the black market because the price of these products typically are fairly high, so then people don't have a way to afford them and they start looking around to the black market," Sisk said.

Sisk added that the bill lacks certain limitations on who can be involved with the business.

"Another concern that's actually listed in the bill is that you can be a convicted felon," Sisk said. "As long as your conviction is older than 10 years, you can still be a part of one of these manufacturers or distributors."

Sisk gave an example of someone serving a 10-year sentence and then being able to buy into one of these dispensaries the day after they're released.

With I-75 running through Catoosa County, Sisk said he's worried that new businesses involved in the trade will start popping up near the state line as a way of garnering customers for neighboring states similar to how methadone clinics have tried to operate in recent years.

Overall, Sisk and the other five sheriffs felt it was their duty to get some information to the public before the vote.

"That is the responsibility of the sheriff," Sisk said. "We are the local chief law enforcement officer in our community. Therefore we need to make sure that our constituents are aware of what's going on."

The legislation proposes that the state license a total of 60 medical marijuana dispensaries divided into "large growers, distributors, smaller-scale companies, and standalone retailers."

In one of his parting shots during the press conference, Sisk said the bill seems to have been rushed without carefully detailing some of the specific requirements related to convicted felons, background checks, and coordination with law enforcement.

"It seems like there's just been a rush and they're not even looking at current laws that are on the books," Sisk said.

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