Future of Georgia’s Cannabis Industry Tough to Predict
A few months ago, I called a local food business owner for an interview about his new venture, which has become increasingly popular in Augusta over the last year. He answered the phone from Oregon, where he was enjoying a vacation with his wife.
As I discovered midway through the interview, it was kind of a work trip, too. In addition to taking in the magnificent views of the Northwest, he was planning to do some digging into the rapidly growing marijuana business, which is thriving in Oregon, one of eight states where recreational use of the drug is legal.
This entrepreneur is in the midst of creating a successful local business built on high-quality food, but he was already looking into a possible future venture: edibles.
Although that might not be a legal possibility in this state for at least a few more years, I applaud his foresight. While marijuana is still illegal in Georgia and could very well remain that way for a while, you can’t knock staying ahead of the curve when it comes to a business that is trending upward.
It’s difficult to project the future of the marijuana business in a state like Georgia. While it’s one of the most conservative states in the country, it also saw a major change last fall, when Atlanta decriminalized weed. Decriminalization is not the same as legalization, but the maximum fine for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana in Atlanta is now only $75, which is essentially the same thing as getting a speeding ticket.
Plus, medical legalization in southern states has already begun as Oklahoma and Arkansas passed legislation this year to approve it. South Carolina has been debating the issue for years, and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has gradually expanded the qualifications for the use of cannabis oil for preventing seizures and mitigating intractable pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other conditions.
Here in Augusta, the effects of this movement on the business world have begun to take shape. This month, a small retailer called CBD Store of Augusta officially opened in Martinez. The store is entirely dedicated to products containing cannabidiol, or CBD oil, a compound in cannabis that has become a popular remedy for PTSD, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation and other ailments (some local vape shops sell the product, too).
CBD oil has gained popularity at a fast pace in the wake of medical marijuana legalization in many states, although CBD is derived from the hemp plant, not marijuana. CBD has a very low amount of THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana. But because of strict regulation in Richmond and Columbia counties, the owners of CBD Store of Augusta aren’t taking any chances and have elected not to sell products that have even small amounts of THC.
After talking to the store manager and learning about the business owners, it seemed that all four of them were inspired to get into the CBD oil business at least partially because of the testimonies they heard from former opioid users. Those users testified that CBD oil helped lift them out of serious addictions.
The manager told me she had to hold back tears after talking to one customer who had debilitating arthritis. CBD had become the best answer for her, as it has for many people with at least a dozen other medical conditions.
The topic is an emotional one. When Deal first signed legislation legalizing CBD oil for certain conditions in 2015, a man named Mike Covington started to cry. He had already watched two of his four children die from seizures before moving his family to Colorado so that his third seizure-prone child could be treated. Other families had similar stories.
What these stories mean for cannabis-related businesses in Georgia over the long haul is impossible to predict. Many state legislators are very cautious about making sure that Atlanta’s recent decriminalization law doesn’t push Georgia down the path of becoming the next Colorado.
What’s certain is that there’s a growing demand for CBD oil, even when it’s THC-free. CBD Store of Augusta has been running out of products faster than it can restock them, and it seems like a safe bet to say more stores like it will pop up in other areas of the CSRA. As the state’s list of medical conditions that merit legal consumption of CBD oil grows, so will the number of people buying it.
For what it’s worth, the aforementioned entrepreneur was convinced we’re all underestimating the speed with which this business is going to take off in the South. I can’t say I disagree. But for now, the only edibles you’ll find at a store are THC-free CBD gummy bears.