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ATLANTA – The state board created last year to oversee Georgia’s new medical marijuana program has appointed its first executive director.

Andrew Turnage, who has headed both the state Board of Cosmetology and Barbers and the Georgia Board of Nursing, will take the helm of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission.

Commission members voted Wednesday to hire Turnage based on the recommendation of an outside search firm that consulted national medical cannabis experts before suggesting a Georgian with experience in state government.

“Mr. Turnage not only has the experience The Goodwin Group recommended, but specifically in the area of state licensing, which is essential to getting us up and running and producing low-THC oil,” said Dr. Christopher Edwards, the commission’s chairman and principal surgeon at the Atlanta Neurological & Spine Institute.

The General Assembly passed legislation last year legalizing the cultivation of marijuana in Georgia, conversion of the leaf into low-THC cannabis oil and sale of the drug to patients suffering from a wide range of diseases, including seizure disorders and Parkinson’s.

Parents of children suffering from those diseases unable to get relief from any treatment other than cannabis oil played a large role in convincing lawmakers to approve the bill.

But the effort has gotten off to a slow start. The seven-member commission in charge of the program wasn’t appointed until last November, more than four months after the legislation took effect.

It has taken nearly six months more to get an executive director on board.

Turnage has a law enforcement background, having served as a deputy sheriff in Hall County, an important qualification considering many in law enforcement have expressed reservations about legalizing the growth of marijuana in Georgia even under the close supervision the new law requires.

Turnage also has a master’s degree from the University of Georgia in adult education.

“We have one goal, and that’s to get oil for families in need,” Turnage said. “We have families in Georgia that have struggled for years to get this basic need, low-THC oil, and our task will be to ensure that they receive it.”

The new commission will be able to buy and import cannabis oil from out of state while the in-state licensing program the law establishes unfolds.

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