Three locals are aiming to break into the state’s new medical marijuana industry, which was created with the signing of a bill by Gov. Brian Kemp to allow for the production and sale of low-potency THC oil.
Calhoun High School graduates Blain Steely, Bly Jordon and Landon Curtis are co-owners of Amavi Cannabis, which has a storefront off South Wall Street at 374 S. Piedmont St., Suite C., and are hoping to be one of the six companies to receive a growing license.
“Basically the reason we do this, in short, is for the patients. They’re the most important thing,” said Steely about why he wanted to get into the medical marijuana business. “I’ve had certain family members who have been addicted to drugs that have come off drugs because of (marijuana).”
Currently, the storefront on Piedmont Street sells full-spectrum CBD oil, which comes from the hemp plant and is a legal product to use and sell, and does not gives users a high.
“CBD full spectrum is the foot in the door for us to a thriving industry but it is also a way for us to reach individuals that may be overly concerned (about) cannabis,” Steely said. “This is an easy avenue to understanding real healing, and it is also an easy way to introduce THC or marijuana to those that are unsure about the benefits of the plant.”
Steely and Jordon initially looked at moving to Oregon, where recreational marijuana is legal, to start growing marijuana. After several trips to the state, both of them were strongly considering opening a business there. However, they saw that the market was becoming flooded with producers — the Oregon legislature is currently considering stopping the issuing of new grow permits.
“It’s not so much about the business,” Jordon said about why he wanted to get into the marijuana industry. “It’s more so about the passion for cannabis that I have personally. I had taken antidepressants when I was younger and I had turned to cannabis and I never looked back. It changed my life entirely. And that’s not to say that will be the case for the next person because we are all entirely different. But I think that there should be a respect about the subject of cannabis.”
So, they made the decision to start in their home state and hometown by selling CBD oil while lobbying for changes to the state’s laws on marijuana. And HB 324 was something they’d lobbied state legislators for last year.
“Georgia is on the perfect pace for us as far as where we are financially and what we’re trying to grow into,” Steely said. “Georgia is behind … but not really. They’re doing things unlike other states to put us ahead of the game.”
House Bill 324, which was passed by the General Assembly earlier this year and signed into law by Kemp last month, takes effect July 1, according to Cody Hall, a spokesman for the governor. The law closes a loophole in a 2015 law that banned growing, buying and selling the drug but allowed certain patients to possess it. Those wishing to obtain the oil had to break the law as they brought it in from another state. Though the actual growing of the plant and sale of THC oil in the state is still some time off.
Current state law allows people with 16 specific conditions, including cancer, seizure disorders and Parkinson’s disease, to possess cannabis oil with less than 5 percent THC, the chemical that gets users high. Currently there are more than 9,000 people people signed up on the program’s registry for a low THC Oil Registry Card, and Steely believes that number will grow over the coming months, as more eligible people move to register for one.
The law grants up to six growing licenses to private companies — two for larger organizations and four for smaller organizations. Between the six licenses, there would be around 9 acres permitted for growing medical marijuana.
It also gives pharmacies priority for distributing the drug, but allows a state commission to seek out independent retail locations if it determines there is a need. The commission can also attempt to legally obtain the oil from other states. Two universities will be allowed to seek federal approval to research and produce the oil.
“It’s definitely unfortunate that it’s only six licenses total,” Jordon said. “We would definitely like to see more licenses.”
The bill faced criticism from the Georgia Sheriff’s Association prior to its passage, with concerns being expressed that it was a pathway to the legalization of recreational marijuana. And though supporters of the bill said this was not the case, Steely believes it absolutely is.
“This bill is a pathway to legalizing marijuana,” Steely said.
“That is what we hope will happen,” Jordon added.
Steely and Jordon said that this bill marks the next step in what is becoming a shift in public support for legalization in Georgia, especially as more information comes out on the economic impact it has had in states where it’s legalized.
The trio is confident that they have the capital, property and capacity for production to meet the demands of a licensed grower. However, if they aren’t one of the companies approved for the limited number of licenses, Jordon said they would appeal to the legislators for the granting of more licenses for medical marijuana production as well as opening the state for recreational marijuana.
“It’s about reform, education and policy,” Steely said.