Georgia's General Assembly adopted a bill late Tuesday allowing medical marijuana sales, allowing patients to purchase the drug they are already allowed to use.
Legislation, House Bill 324, allows private companies and universities to grow medical marijuana. Thereafter, pharmacies and possibly dispensers could sell it to the state's 8,400 registered medical marijuana patients.
The bill was in danger until Gov. Brian Kemp helped broker an agreement between house and senate leaders who had struggled to strike a balance between giving access to legitimate patients while preventing illegal marijuana distribution. The measure now goes to Kemp for his signature or veto.
The house passed the bill 147-16, and the senate approved it 34-20.
"Over the years, I've met with children struggling with chronic, debilitating diseases. I've heard from parents struggling with access and losing hope," Kemp said. "This compromise legislation is carefully designed to provide access to medical cannabis oil to those in need. This is simply the right thing to do."
Georgia legalized medical marijuana consumption in 2015 for patients suffering from severe seizures, fatal cancers and others. diseases, but the government did not allow them to buy them. It remains against the law to buy, sell or transport medical marijuana oil.
Patients got the drug by mail, driving outside the state or from friends.
Under the bill, up to six private companies would be allowed to grow and produce medical marijuana oil. In addition, two universities could start medical marijuana programs. Pharmacists would initially be able to sell the drug and a state monitoring body would have the power to allow private dispensers.
Smoking or eating of marijuana remains prohibited.
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"For the past five years, our patients in this state have been out of state. , "said Secretary of State Micah Gravley, a Republican from Douglasville. "The compromise we have reached the goal of secure access for the citizens of that state."
Opponents of the proposal said they were concerned that they were establishing a distribution network that could lead to the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes.  "Many people recognize this for what it is. This is the first step towards the commercialization of recreational marijuana," said Senate-regulated industrial company chairman Bill Cowsert, a Republican from Athens. "This is the step where you open floodgates and you create the infrastructure for this industry."
HB 324 would make Georgia the 31st state to allow some form of marijuana cultivation.
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