State leaders announce members of medical cannabis commission

State leaders have tapped a group of seven people to establish how Georgia will regulate production of medical cannabis oil.

Governor Brian Kemp, Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston announced their picks late Tuesday for the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission.  

The commission includes:

  • Christopher Edwards, M.D., Principal Surgeon, Atlanta Neurological & Spine Institute
  • Jason Hockenberry, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Health Policy, Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health
  • Danielle Benson, Small Business Owner
  • William Bornstein, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Medical Officer and Chief Quality & Patient Safety Officer, Emory Healthcare
  • Judith Rochon, M.D., Kaiser Permanente
  • William “Bill” Prather, President, Georgia Board of Pharmacy
  • Bob Starrett, City of Austell Chief of Police

Gov. Kemp chose Dr. Edwards to be the commission chairman.

"Georgia's Hope Act provides a critical pathway for Georgians with chronic, debilitating diseases to get the help that they desperately need," said Governor Kemp in a news release. "I am confident that [they] will serve with the highest levels of integrity in faithfully carrying out the mission of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission."

State lawmakers approved "Georgia's Hope Act" back in April, which created the commission and paved the way for in-state cultivation of marijuana for oil production and distribution. 

"We're just happy that things are finally moving forward.  It's been seven months since the bill passed and we've been waiting a long time to get this ball moving," said Shannon Cloud, a member of Georgia's Hope, a grassroots patient advocacy group. "We are disappointed that it doesn't appear that there is a true patient advocate on the commission. There's a lot of doctors, which is a great thing. Hopefully, they are physicians who have seen the benefit in their patients and want to make this medicine available."

Under current state law, patients with approved conditions like Alzheimer's, cancer, and seizure disorders can sign up for Georgia's Low THC Oil Registry.  Participants with a registry card are allowed to possess up to 20 fluid ounces of cannabis oil, however, because the product is not made it Georgia, they have to break federal law and smuggle it into Georgia.

Cloud said it is important for the commission to include patients and their caregivers as they develop the state's regulations moving forward.  

"We just want to get our message out there to the commission members that Georgia's Hope would like to work with them on this," said Cloud. "We really hope they will be open to input from patients and people with that kind of experience to make sure that this gets done right."

Members of the commission have not yet announced when they will hold their first meeting.