(The Center Square) – Legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in Georgia was met with a barrage of criticism.
Sen. Sheikh Rahman, D-Lawrenceville, has introduced two proposals aimed at decriminalizing the illicit drug, but religious and advocacy groups say it is dangerous.
Senate Resolution 165 would create a ballot measure asking Georgia residents to decide whether to legalize marijuana. A second measure, Senate Bill 263, dictates the rules for retailing the drug.
Touting more than $10 billion in revenue from other states with legal recreational marijuana, Rahman told the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries & Utilities on Thursday the legislation would create an economic boost. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use.
Georgia would charge a $5,000 licensing fee to retailers under the current version of the measure and collect excise and sales tax. Rahman’s plan is to use the tax revenue for education, transportation and infrastructure. He said a commission would recommend the final fees and the tax rate.
The legislative panel picked through the bill, pointing out loopholes and missing details. Committee Co-chair Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan, asked Rahman to provide a copy of a study that shows the benefits of legalizing the drug.
Brass set the tone for the hearing Thursday, pointing to the challenges states with legal marijuana encountered.
“When we talk to officials in Colorado, specifically, there was a dramatic increase in homeless as well as cash and money laundering and dispensaries,” Brass said. “So, would you please indulge myself by understanding the ramifications from a public safety and public health perspective?”
Other committee members were also concerned about the effects of marijuana on commercial license drivers and the insurance liabilities truck drivers under the influence could cause.
Six people made public comments on record Thursday, including a current senator with a law enforcement background. All of them opposed legalizing the drug. They argued marijuana could increase addiction and cause brain, heart and mental health issues.
“We should not just look at the revenue generated by this measure, but also at the public health costs of this measure and the destructive and damaging effects on our communities and within our state,” said Taylor Hawkins, director of advocacy for Frontline Policy Action, a Christian-based nonprofit.
Sen. Randy Robertson, R-Cataula, who has an extensive background in law enforcement, recalled an incident while serving a warrant. A drug dealer and marijuana user’s children were living in deplorable conditions. He said the legislation could hurt thousands of other children who live in households with marijuana addiction.
The committee did not vote on the legislative package Thursday. It would need to clear the committee before a full vote in the Senate and the House.
Other lawmakers have attempted to decriminalize and legalize marijuana in Georgia over the past several years. Rahman also introduced Senate Resolution 165 and Senate Bill 163 in the last legislative session.
Patients with a Low THC Oil Registry card legally can purchase up to 20 fluid ounces of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) oil from licensed dispensaries or pharmacies under legislation signed into law by former Gov. Nathan Deal in 2015.
Gov. Brian Kemp has pushed forward the process since taking office, signing Georgia’s Hope Act in April 2019. It created the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission to oversee the regulation of the industry. It still is in its launching stage.
Rahman also proposed Senate Bill 264, which would authorize the plant for medical use instead of just the oil.