Patients celebrated when House Bill 324 passed the Georgia General Assembly earlier this month – but the Better Business Bureau is warning medicinal marijuana patients to think twice before trying to make any purchases.

“(Gov. Brian Kemp) still has to sign the bill into law…(if) he signs it, the law would take effect on July 1, 2019,” said Annette Johnson from the Better Business Bureau, serving metro Atlanta, Athens and northeast Georgia. “Until then, we are warning consumers of some scams that have occurred in other states (e.g. California, Colorado) where medicinal marijuana had already been passed.”

House Bill 324, passed on April 2, 2019, permits private companies and universities to grow medical marijuana and provides a legal way for patients to obtain it. While current law allows them to possess medical cannabis, it is illegal to grow marijuana.

Kemp is expected to sign the bill, which passed in the Senate and House moments before the Session adjourned.

READ: Legislators expand medical cannabis, families of patients celebrate

Current state law has allowed patients to use low potency cannabis oil for 16 specific medical conditions, including seizure disorders, Parkinson’s disease and cancer, according to the BBB. Now, pharmacies and approved dispensaries would be able to sell THC oil to Georgia’s estimated 8,400 registered patients.

According to the BBB, here are some common scam tactics Georgia residents must be aware of:

Illegal companies: Patients must primarily beware of illegal cannabis companies. The new law requires “a license to produce, grow, manufacture, or dispense low THC oil in this state.”

"People desperate for relief from physical pain and other chronic symptoms sometimes go against their better judgment and end up a victim of these type scams," said Brian Catania, president and CEO of the BBB Metro Atlanta, Athens and Northeast Georgia.

Illegal sales channels: The law does not allow for medicinal marijuana online sales, delivery services and telemedicine, so consumers must not purchase THC oil through any of these platforms. The new bill mandates a dispensing license, and if any company violates the law by offering the oil in any of these prohibited forms, don’t do business with them, as they will likely be prosecuted. 

"Many of the medical marijuana scams reported to the BBB involve online purchases," Catania said. Consumers have lost up to $2,200 at a time, according to the BBB Scam Tracker.

Pump and dump scam: Those industrious types who see this new law as an opportunity to invest in related stocks or raise funds, must also beware. The SEC warns that some publicly traded cannabis offerings of penny stocks, for instance, are doing so with the intent to defraud. This scheme involves increasing the demand and trading volume in the stock. Once a new inflow of investors leads to a sharp rise in the stock’s price, the scammers sell their position to make a large short-term gain.

Marijuana franchise: Wanting to get into the medical marijuana business requires many federal and state registrations and approvals, so consumers should make sure that they are not being sold a bogus business opportunity. 

"As always, do your research and check out the company with the BBB and FTC for complaints," Catania said.

The bill created an 11-member oversight board called the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission to review licensing applications and an office within the Department of Public Health to regulate the program for patients.

Thus, consumers may be able to contact the commission should they need to verify the legitimacy of new dispensaries.

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