DEA memo clashes with Georgia medical marijuana law, pharmacies caught in the crossfire

Ira Katz would like to provide medical cannabis to patients who visit his pharmacy. But he won’t take the risk. 

"Of course, I’m not going to do it," said Katz, who owns Little Five Points Pharmacy. "When the DEA says to a pharmacy ‘you cannot dispense a class-one drug,’ every pharmacy is going to say ‘okay. We’re not going to mess with it.’" 

Georgia, this year, became the first state to permit pharmacies to sell medical marijuana. But the federal Drug Enforcement Administration recently sent out a memo telling independent Georgia pharmacies dispensing medical cannabis violates federal law. 

"You cannot sell medical cannabis in the state of Georgia according to the DEA," Katz said. Drug stores would run the risk of stiff penalties if you tried to dispense the drug. "I could be arrested. I could be fined; I could be shut down." 

Alicia Hughes, a visiting assistant law professor at Emory University and Interim Director for the Center of Civil Rights and Social Justice. 

"If they should dispense medical marijuana, they could be prosecuted under federal law and subject to jail time," Hughes said. "Marijuana is still on the federal drug schedule as a controlled substance. And it comes under the jurisdiction of the federal government of the DEA. Georgia has come up with the most responsible way to get medical marijuana into the hands of the people who need it." 

Hughes says the DEA’s position contradicts Georgia law and could throw pharmacies into confusion. 

"It’s an extraordinary paradox," Hughes said. "Now, despite the fact that we’ve been very responsible through how we’ve done this, you’re telling us ‘No.’" 

Hughes says pharmacies should not take the risk. Don’t dispense medical cannabis. "The DEA will come for you. I want everybody to stay out of jail," Hughes said. 

"It’s going to really hurt a lot of our patients," Katz said. "Medical cannabis is a drug and should be dispensed by a licensed pharmacist. We counsel our patients. We talk to our patients. A lot of them don’t feel comfortable going to a dispensary." 

FOX 5 reached out to the DEA for a comment but had not heard back from them as of Friday evening.