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Drug Free Hall forum focuses on lack of regulation in marijuana, CBD
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Merrill Norton, professor at the University of Georgia pharmacy college, discusses CBD, THC and the unregulated market around them at a Partnership for Drug Free Hall forum Thursday, Feb. 13, at First Baptist Church on Green Street in Gainesville. - photo by Nick Watson

Holding a bunch of bananas toward the audience, Gainesville First United Methodist senior pastor the Rev. Scott Hearn asked which one would be eaten first.

“The one that’s removed from the bunch,” Hearn said, as he snapped one away from the others.
“... The greatest danger in addiction is isolation and loneliness.”

The Partnership for Drug Free Hall hosted its latest forum in the “Not My Family” series Thursday evening at First Baptist Church on Green Street in Gainesville. 

The two mentioned compounds in the event’s title, “It’s Just a Little Pot: The Truth About THC, CBD & Pot,” are found in cannabis plants, though THC is the main psychoactive ingredient.

“We currently have an unregulated market of both THC and CBD products in various forms, and I’m not here to tell people not to do that. I’m just going to tell you, be careful and be aware (that) what you’re using is not regulated,” said Merrill Norton, professor at the University of Georgia pharmacy college.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only approved one cannabis-derived and three cannabis-related drug products that require a prescription from a licensed health care provider.
Epidiolex, which has CBD in a purified form, was approved in June 2018 for seizures in certain syndromes affecting children 2 years old and up.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people using marijuana before the age of 18 “are four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults.”

The institute also noted that recent data shows 30 percent of marijuana users “may have some degree of marijuana use disorder.”
Norton said the cultivation cost for CBD is typically $5,000 per acre and can turn into $40,000 in revenue when selling the raw product for manufacturing.

“The cost of most products, if you want to have a legitimate CBD product with legitimate credentialing, runs anywhere from $59.99 to $187.99 per ounce. So if you want to go out and buy a $9.99 bottle of CBD and think it’s the appropriate CBD for you to take, buyer beware. Some of these things that we have found contain sesame seed oil and nothing else,” Norton said.

Outside of Epidiolex, there are no other FDA-approved drug products with CBD.

“We are aware that some firms are marketing CBD products to treat diseases or for other therapeutic uses, and we have issued several warning letters to such firms,” according to the FDA.

Dr. Sanjay Mehta, an interventional pain specialist, said marijuana use in cancer patients has shown positive responses for symptom management such as pain, mood and nausea.

“Unless you’re going through something serious like that, it’s not a first-line drug that we use. For the CBD, again, it’s more for chronicity and it should be used for patients that are older than 18 years old,” Mehta said.

The Georgia Hemp Farming Act became law May 10 of last year,  which was intended to “allow farmers and businesses to begin to cultivate, handle, and process hemp and sell hemp products for commercial purposes,” according to the act’s text.

Hemp has 0.3% or less of THC, the main psychoactive element, whereas marijuana has 5% or higher.

As some metro Atlanta prosecutors announced their intention to halt prosecution in low-level cases, Hall County Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard said there would be no change in the way her office prosecuted cases.

“Until the Georgia General Assembly and my constituents tell me that they want it legalized in the state and it is done so, it will be prosecuted in the same way that I have done from the beginning in Hall County,” she said.

Woodard has a pre-trial diversion program around alcohol and drugs particularly for young offenders and those who have otherwise stayed out of trouble.

“You kind of get all the punishment, and then I dismiss the case, and it’s not easy. In fact, it really tracks the punishment that you’d get if you had a conviction,” Woodard said.

Those elements include community service, drug and alcohol evaluation, treatment, watching DUI and Drug Court to “see where this path leads” and drug screens, Woodard said.