On March 27th, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal committed to signing into law the “Haley’s Hope” bill legalizing a certain form of cannabis called CBD. This strain of marijuana is different from the typical THC-laden plant that is predominantly used medically and recreationally. While non-intoxicating, CBD strains have been shown to dramatically reduce epileptic seizures in many patients as well as help with other illnesses. Once enacted into law, Georgia will be the 24th state to have some form of legal marijuana legislation, although Haley’s Hope does not change existing laws or penalties for other forms of marijuana. Additionally, prescriptions for CBD are only available to treat 8 different kinds of ailments. Governor Deal’s announcement follows similar, but much narrower CBD legislation recently passed in South Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida.
Despite these states approving CBD laws, the South has been the only pocket of the country that has generally resisted efforts to approve medical and recreational marijuana. North Carolina voted down a similar CBD law on the same day as Deal’s announcement to the consternation of both local and national activists. Currently, no southern state legalizes any form of non-CBD marijuana; although Florida voters were close to approving medical marijuana by a 58-42 margin in the 2014 general election. The measure failed, however, because it was presented as an amendment needing 60 percent approval for passage.
The South, nearly uniformly, also has the toughest marijuana penalties of anywhere in the nation, with possession over 1 ounce of marijuana being a felony in all of the aforementioned states except North Carolina, for which is 1.5 ounces. Even the passage of the CBD laws in these states has been considered a prohibitionist delay tactic by some medical marijuana advocates. As Tori LaChapelle, an anti-prohibition activist notes, these laws make possession of CBD legal, but does not offer a legal method of obtaining the drug.
Deal, along with other southern elected officials are hoping the CBD laws can strike a balance with their wide base of conservative constituents. There is a growing schism within the Republican Party between supporters of the “just say no” traditional mantra, and more libertarian elements that support more personal freedom and less governmental restriction. Some in the party fear that even compassionate legislation such as the Haley’s Hope law will lead to a slippery slope that will eventually lead to legalizing marijuana in their states. Their fears may be substantiated. Florida will likely re-introduce the medical marijuana amendment in 2016, and other states such as South Carolina, Texas, and Kentucky have introduced marijuana reform bills in their state legislatures, although none have made it to ballot as of yet. It remains to be seen if the national momentum and widespread activist support will eventually turn the tide towards legalization in America’s most conservative region.
Christian Science Monitor -Patrik Jonsson
CNN – Saundra Young
Map of State Marijuana Laws – NORML