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Local News

Cannabis Equity: The Importance of Reform and Access to Dispensaries

Credit: iStock

Shanteya Hudson

The rise of medical cannabis dispensaries in Georgia is highlighting the need for reform and equitable access.

One of the state’s first dispensaries opened in April, offering easier access to low THC medical cannabis oils for some patients.

Valeria Valdepeña, executive director of the advocacy group Peachtree NORML, stressed there are still questions about cannabis equity and accessibility in the program, among other concerns.

“Reforming laws in general will have a wide effect on a lot of different aspects of people’s lives,” Valdepeña pointed out. “There’s overcrowding in our prison system, there’s people dying there for drug charges there’s people that have felony records that impacts housing, school loans and keeps them in this poverty-stricken cycle.”

Currently, first-offense possession for an ounce or less of cannabis carries a maximum penalty of up to one year in prison, and more than 40,000 Georgians are arrested every year for marijuana possession.

Apart from laws reforming marijuana arrests, Valdepeña highlighted the challenge faced by rural residents in accessing necessary resources due to the locations of existing dispensaries.

“I think we are going to need more dispensaries,” Valdepeña asserted. “We are going to need delivery obviously because if you live out in rural areas it’s going to be hard to come into Metro Atlanta to pick up your medicine, you can’t get to the dispensary if they are a far enough distance. So I think from an accessible standpoint — from a practical standpoint — those are things that are going to need to be addressed.”

Since 2015, the number of patients in the Georgia Department of Public Health’s Low-THC Oil Patient Registry has surged more than 50%, from 13,000 to more than 27,000.

This story was written by Shanteya Hudson, a producer at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.