Revealing the details of a recent armed robbery at a local jewelry store, City Manager Brian Johnson highlights the need for proactive measures to combat such crimes. In his interview with Rico Figliolini, Johnson delves into the technological advancements the city has implemented to enhance law enforcement capabilities, including the fūsus real-time intelligence ecosystem and the use of drones for surveillance. He also discusses non-lethal technologies and the city’s exploration of artificial intelligence in law enforcement.
Furthermore, he provides updates on infrastructure improvements and developments in the town center, showcasing Peachtree Corners’ commitment to ensuring its residents’ safety and quality of life. Don’t miss this informative and vital episode of Prime Lunchtime with the City Manager as Peachtree Corners works towards a safer community.
0:00:00 – Introduction
0:00:37 – Discussion about an armed robbery at the Forum at Carnegie Jewelers
0:03:18 – The use of fūsus cameras in solving crimes
0:10:29 – The growing use of technology, drones, and non-lethal tools in law enforcement
0:13:38 – Mention of using AI to analyze social media for potential illegal activities
0:17:35 – Introduction of the new Chief City Marshal starting on November 1
0:18:34 – Qualifications and background of the hired marshals
0:21:40 – Swearing-in ceremony and future plans for the marshals
0:22:19 – Ongoing projects in Peachtree Corners
0:22:58 – Parking deck improvements and EV charging station reopening
0:25:15 – Dog park and upcoming improvements in Town Green
0:26:36 – Playground equipment updates and playground for younger children
0:27:58 – Fitness trail changes and safety measures
0:29:04 – Gateway signage project update
0:32:37 – Forum updates and boulevard project progress
0:33:58 – Peachtree Corners Decathlon event on the fitness trail
0:34:53 – Feasibility study on pickleball and other upcoming projects
0:37:38 – Intersection improvements at Bush Road and Medlock Bridge Road
0:39:15 – Closing
Rico Figliolini 0:00:00
Hi everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life and Prime Lunchtime with the City Manager, Brian Johnson. Hey, Brian. Thanks for coming.
Brian Johnson 0:00:09
Hey, thanks for having me, Rico.
Rico Figliolini 0:00:11
Yep, yep. We’re starting this a little later than normal as far as recording this live because of an incident that just happened a little while ago in the last 45 minutes actually, that you shared with me and that listeners will know about this actually probably sooner than this podcast goes out. And that’s an armed robbery that happened at the Forum at Carnegie Jewelers just a little while ago. So can you tell us what happened there?
Brian Johnson 0:00:37
Well, the reports right now, both Gwinnett County Police Department and our city Marshals are working on it. Obviously it just happened, but it appears that two gunmen entered the jewelry store and pulled a gun and went to at least one location of the jewelry store and broke the glass and then just did a snatch and grab where they grabbed a bunch of jewelry, ran out the store and got into a vehicle and left. And unfortunately, it’s another example where we have become increasingly popular a location for criminal element to be coming out of parts outside of Peachtree Corners, into Peachtree Corners and going after areas that have call it wealth or resources for somebody to steal. Whether it’s property crime in some of the neighborhoods at night, going in and breaking into cars parked in the driveway or the Town Center Forum having these kind of crimes, it’s unfortunate. It’s getting rather brazen. I mean that’s in the middle of the day on a Wednesday that they go in with a gun. But unfortunately it’s happening and so we’re working on it. Specifically, our marshals have pulled video feed of the location where it happened and tying it into our other cameras throughout the city, tied in through fūses for them to track the vehicle. So I’m hoping that they’ll be able to use that and our relationship with other law enforcement jurisdictions outside of the city that we can maybe track where they ultimately go and arrest them but it just happened, so I don’t have any other update on that other than right.
Rico Figliolini 0:02:36
And for those that are listening, that was just before lunchtime, actually about 11:45, 11:30 or so. Yes, that happened on Wednesday. And we’ve been talking about this. I mean, fūsus as a company based here in Peachtree Corners has actually grown quite a bit in doing that crime center in the cloud and coordinating cameras throughout a city or a county. And we were just talking about just before we got on that eight of the last violent crimes that happen in this area in Peachtree Corners have all been solved basically because of the fūsus cameras in the system here and us coordinating that, right, yeah.
Brian Johnson 0:03:18
So both the cameras that we have, the capabilities these cameras have, and then fūsus tying them together and letting us both pull up feeds from the cameras the city owns and feeds from cameras that companies have registered through fuses to allow to be used for law enforcement. We’ve been able to our personnel have been able to identify and track these perpetrators of violent crime. And it goes so deep as to some of these criminals think that all right, if I wear a mask, they won’t know my identity. If I cover my license plate, they won’t be able to get my license plate number, which is true. However, our cameras have the ability to look for unique identifying features of that particular vehicle that may set it apart. So, for instance, you could have a black Honda Accord that’s as ubiquitous as you get. There’s probably millions of them around. But if maybe one of the headlights was broken or it was missing a rim or it had a different color door panel or whatever, the cameras can if you tell the camera to look for that make and model with that identifying feature, almost like a birthmark or a tattoo, able to follow it, so we’ve actually been able to find that vehicle. And then if you find the vehicle, say, if it pulls into an apartment complex, then detectives go in and start interviewing people who may know or by then, they’ve uncovered the covering over the license plate. You can run the tags or there’s been a stake out on the vehicle waiting for people to come back to the vehicle. But it wouldn’t have been possible had it not been both for our technology through the fusa single painted glass aspect. And maybe more important than anything is effective users of it. And I know our two deputy marshals we’ve hired who came from Gwinnett PD are incredibly adept at pulling up cameras and starting to put in identifying marks and then starting to track where it’s going, including having done it in the field using their own phone. Not even in big network operations center where they have all these screens, but even know enough. Their talent in using this is phenomenal. Now, the best crime is the crime you prevent. So unfortunately, these are all examples of where we’ve helped solve a crime that was already committed. But our hope is that if we do enough of these, word starts to get out to the criminal element that if you’re stupid enough to do this, don’t do it in Peace Street.
Rico Figliolini 0:06:15
Right. Which makes sense. I think. You had mentioned there was a shooting, Gwynette Place mall a few weeks ago, I think, and Gwinnett police called up, called the city and asked if you all would be able to track through the city because they knew the perpetrator was coming through the city. So explain that a little bit, because I thought that was kind of exciting, live, real time usage of what the system can do.
Brian Johnson 0:06:42
Yeah. Now, mind you, when I’m referring to city marshals, that’s a new thing which I’m sure you and I will talk about more either in this podcast or others. But we stood up a city marshal’s office as a means to put resources into gaps between call it our code enforcement and then law enforcement. And so we’ve had some gaps. We’ve hired two of the initial three. Well, we’ve actually hired all three. Now, the chief marshal we just named, but he doesn’t start until November 1. But the two deputy marshals are here on staff working. And why they’re a force multiplier is because when FPD is still our primary police department, they’re still going to be the ones that answer calls dispatched to them through 911 dispatch. But our marshals, because they don’t have that responsibility to get interrupted by calls for service, they can be working on the areas that we need them to work on and not be interrupted. So they’re doing their thing. And there was a shooting at Gwinnett Place Mall, two people shooting at each other. One ended up dying from his wounds, but the other one got into a vehicle and left. And one of the witnesses told the responding officer the make and model and that they thought one of the rounds hit the vehicle as it was leaving. So Gwinnett PD reached out to our two city marshals, of whom they know because they just were recently employees at Gwynette PD coming here anyway, and said, hey, the vehicle’s direction of travel when they left Gwinnett, headed towards Peachtree Corners. Could you pull up your system and see if they come in? So what our two marshals did is one of them got into one of their vehicle and headed to the north part of the city where they thought they would be coming in if they were coming to Peachy Corners. And the other one was giving him real time feed. And sure enough, we hit them on, I think it was North Berkeley Lake Drive or whatever. And the marshal that was out in the field goes up to the intersection, was ultimately south Old Peachtree and PIB. And as he was sitting there at the light, here comes the vehicle going across. And he was able to identify that the rear window had what looked like a bullet hole. So without the license plate, that was the vehicle that the marshal that was at City Hall looking at the cameras started telling our system to track. And then our marshal got in many cars behind, but got in on the same direction of travel and periodic lights, was able to see up ahead that, okay, the vehicle is not turning off. And then they were able to call in the resources. And so Gwinnett PD, Georgia State Patrol, got in behind the car as it was on Spalding heading west. And ultimately just after it left Pet Street Corners and went into Dunwoody is when they had enough resources and stopped the vehicle. But they would have never known where it went had it not been for that system. So our marshals were able to provide that force, multiplier that additional resource when it was out doing its thing, called in additional resources. And so even though they weren’t directly involved in the actual stopping of the vehicle, they were able to identify it. And that was the gunman that ended up killing another individual. So even though that crime didn’t even happen in peace street corners, our resources are bringing to bear. And if nothing else, taking some of these people off the street.
Rico Figliolini 0:10:29
It’s just amazing the technology and the way it’s working now in real life, people look at this, I think, and they see TV movie type stuff, but possibility. And this is just the beginnings of it, right. Because not everyone’s wired up. Some of the counties around here are, it seems Fulton County is some of the counties are using the same.
Brian Johnson 0:10:50
So yeah, Gwinnett has a pretty decent call it ecosystem of cameras, kind of that north Fulton definite. Well, really, Fulton County, probably the city of Atlanta’s, got a very good system, which has helped, but we’re not stopping there. We’re leveraging the partnerships and resources that Curiosity Lab has created to give our officers even additional marshals, additional tools, including within the drone space, right. They will end up doing in fact, one of our marshals already finished getting his license. And the FAA, our relationship with the FAA, the FAA is very interested in doing some both testing and maybe even policy making based on our use of drones in the law enforcement space. So we’re looking forward to doing some things there. And we’ve got some non lethal technology being that they’re going to be able to use, including things like that will shoot out. It’s almost like fish line. You can barely see it, but it has a little weighted balls at the end. And you can shoot it out at somebody either running away from you and it almost shoots out in a V with two little weighted balls leading. And when it hits something, it then wraps around it using the inertia. So you can end up tripping somebody if they’re running away or even if their arms are behind their side. A non lethal way to stop somebody or to running or has a weapon of some sort. We’ve got another resource is GPS trackers that can be shot from the front of a vehicle. If you get into a situation where they are pursuing a vehicle or about they turn on their lights and the vehicle goes to leave, flee at a high rate of speed. It can shoot this GPS tracker with a magnet onto the car, in which case you can reduce the amount of times that you may be considering a high speed pursuit because now you can let them go. But we’ve got a tracker and we can use resources or call it into resources outside of our jurisdiction. And not put the public at risk. So we’re using technology to help be an additional resource that can be brought to bear on some of this. So we’ll be testing and doing certain unique innovative technologies in the law enforcement here to hopefully make Peachtree Corners a little bit safer.
Rico Figliolini 0:13:38
Yeah. And that makes sense. I think the more that’s publicized, the stronger we become as a safe city because I could see that being used on all sorts of things from even Intersection Takeovers, where cars are shot with those GPS and being tracked back to where they go. So I could see the technology is expanding. AI may even become part of that, I’m sure in some ways to be able to certain things, to be able to follow things as well.
Brian Johnson 0:14:09
Well, we are going to do a little bit of experimenting on AI as it relates to social media and the organization. Well, intersection takeovers might be one or oftentimes empty office space. Retail space can become impromptu locations for after our parties.
Rico Figliolini 0:14:34
Brian Johnson 0:14:35
And we’re going to want to use that to maybe start pulling keywords or phrases or other things to feed us information that then our marshals can dig a little bit deeper and say if in fact there is an illegal after hours party being organized. We can bring in Gwinnett County PE resources potentially to bear, to stop it or to the rest of the people who are doing things that they shouldn’t. Lots of opportunities.
Rico Figliolini 0:15:05
Yeah. It seems like that space is coming to a head as far as all these things working for the city, especially in a time like you mean, we’ve been seeing a lot more criminal activity between the flash mob, if you will, going into like Lululemon. The shootings that have happened is when you look at this, I think, and you look at a city like ours that’s north of a main metropolitan area, we can’t be thinking that we won’t be touched by this, by things going on in a city even though we’re suburban area, because it’s going to happen. And I’m glad this city is actually doing stuff about it.
Brian Johnson 0:15:53
Well, metro land is growing. So as you densify and you put more people together, you get more of this. And then as crime increases in certain areas, even down closer, know more, know midtown Atlanta or whatever. I’m thinking about the last eight violent prime incidents we’ve had in the city. I believe that almost without maybe the only exception to this would be the Norcross High School student who died. They obviously live somewhere. I mean, they don’t have to live in Peace street corners, but somewhere near here. But even the gunmen in that incident lived outside of the city. The slider prime, that was unfortunate. Quick trip. That was criminal element coming in, coming up north out of the Atlanta Midtown area. Up here looking for higher end vehicles. The Lululemon at criminal element lived down in Atlanta. I mean, they’re coming up here because there are more opportunities for them to steal resources that they don’t find there. So we can’t sit back and just wring our hands and be like, well, this is what happens when there’s growth. No, let’s do what we can to, if nothing else, draw a line around our city and say, you better go around us, because if you come in here, we have a lot of resources that you don’t normally see elsewhere, and your odds of getting away with it are much slimmer.
Rico Figliolini 0:17:35
Yeah. No, I agree. Certainly. And the more narrow the time or the more condensed the time that these perpetrators are caught, the better it is. Versus a year out. If they’re caught within days, hours, a week, that’s always better, because that will get out, I think people will understand.
Brian Johnson 0:17:55
And it gets them off the street quicker, too.
Rico Figliolini 0:17:57
Brian Johnson 0:17:59
A year out, great, you solved it. But in the meantime, how many other crimes did they commit elsewhere?
Rico Figliolini 0:18:05
Right? Because they’re not doing single acts. I mean, these criminals are doing multiple acts. It’s like burglary or robbery. They’re doing half a dozen acts. They’re not just doing the one the city has hired. Okay, so Edward Restrepo. Am I pronouncing that right? Seasoned 26 year Gwinnett County Police officer. He’s going to be starting November 1. He’s the chief city marshal. So he’ll be leading the group of three, I’m thinking.
Brian Johnson 0:18:34
That’s correct. So when we decided to stand this up and it was time to advertise the positions, we knew that one of the things that we wanted was or were officers who obviously they needed to be post certified, they needed law enforcement officers. We wanted them to have a familiarity with Peachtree Corners because it makes it easier if you already know the streets and the areas that certain things and then we wanted officers who had a maybe were more adept use of technology, innovative law enforcement things. And so the first two that we hired, the two deputies, well, all three of them, but the two deputy marshals are not only former Gwinnett County PD. One was there about ten years, one about 17 years. So they’ve been there a long time. But the had worked out of West Precinct for many years, so they know Peachtree Corners. They like the community. One of them had been the crime analyst, so he was used to using the cameras and everything. So both are phenomenal when it comes to their investigatory skills. And then the chief marshal that we just announced, restrepo is retiring from Gwinnett PD. You said 27, 28, 29 years, whatever it was. He is the most recent West Precinct commander, had multiple tours here. And what’s also interesting about him, in addition to him knowing Peachtree Corners well, knowing our leadership structure here, because he had been showing up to city council meetings for a number of years, he also is finishing his PhD in the use of technology in law enforcement.
Rico Figliolini 0:20:39
Brian Johnson 0:20:40
That’s what PhD is in. Certainly being led by somebody who understands how to use, how to leverage technological resources to fight and hopefully prevent crime. So that’s where we’re at with the marshals. We’re excited about Major Restrepo start date, which is November 1 and November 14, that city council meeting. We’ll have a big swearing in ceremony for the three marshals, which they’re Post certified. So it’s symbolic, but certainly Yule, as well as other media will get an invite to that particular city council meeting where all the remaining policies will have been adopted that will guide their actions and they’ll be available for interviews and other things at the conclusion of that city council meeting. And at that point, it’s time to get to work and they’ll do that very thing.
Rico Figliolini 0:21:40
So for those people that may not understand Post certified, that means that they’ve gone through the same regimen, the same education, same training as Gwinnett County Police as any police officer would go through.
Brian Johnson 0:21:53
In the state of Georgia. Post stands for Police Officer Standards and Training. And that’s the program in which it’s really police academy. And then you to maintain your certification, you have to do X amount of hours every year to keep your Post certification, which is again, what every law enforcement officer in Georgia has to go through regardless of who their employer is.
Rico Figliolini 0:22:19
And we’ll have more on that as we get closer to that date as well. One of our writers is doing a deep dive story on it with you in Restrepo, and we’ll have a little bit more on that as the weeks go by. I did want to get a little bit further into what we’re doing at Town Center because there’s quite a few things going on there between the dog park, the fencing for the fitness trail and such, and the new playground. So can you give us a brief description of what the top three things are going on there? Because there’s quite a few things apparently.
Brian Johnson 0:22:58
There is, and it’s one of those things where Town Center has been the success the city wanted it to be when it wanted to partner with a private developer to create a gathering place for the community to come together and have things to know, amenities to use. And it’s been open for a few years and we’ve identified things that are successful. So town center, we have a number of as it’s been open, we have recognized that we need to make some improvements and to make it better. So we’re trying to time it to where in a very compressed period of time off season, meaning at the end of when the concerts are going to happen, we’re going to end up starting or in some cases we’ll be finishing a few things. One, I will start with something else, and that is the final parking deck improvements after the parking deck was constructed and you have all this new weight there’s, the settling that you have. And as it settled in, there’s some areas that we were like, we need to kind of do some things here. We need to make some repair a few cracks there, some of that kind of stuff. Well, unfortunately for us to do a little bit of that. The EV chargers were closed to use for, what has it been, about six months?
Rico Figliolini 0:25:15
Yeah, it’s been about were they shifted over to a different side or were they in the same place?
Brian Johnson 0:25:22
No, it was just closed. You couldn’t use it because the are at the edge of the parking deck retaining wall. And that’s where we had to have equipment. It’s also where you enter the underground detention vault, stormwater detention vault as well. So there are three things that were right there. That was the area that had settled the most, so it needed the most attention. The retaining wall was getting pinned. Additionally, like it’s getting pinned and stabilized or further stabilized. And then the entrance to under the parking deck is a big it’s basically an underground pot where all the water from the town center has to go somewhere before it goes into the creek. That’s where it’s detained. So all that work was there. Well, now the good thing is that work is done. The EV charging stations are open again, so you can go back there and charge. So that’s one thing that we’re doing and finishing. The dog park has started. It should be finished in about two months. So that is good. That’s a long go. What would that be? The East Side or call it behind Cinebestro.
Rico Figliolini 0:26:36
Brian Johnson 0:26:36
Right then we’re timing. The last concert is the end of November. So December 1, we are going to immediately start removing all the soil in the town green and digging down a few feet, removing all that Georgia clay and then putting in a drainage system underneath it so it’ll drain properly and we won’t have to worry so much about rain events and when people are on it. It was creating squish down in the Georgia clay when it was wet. It wasn’t like a sponge where it went back to its original state. It would stay depressed and then harden when it dried. And that’s why so that’ll all be good for next year. We did decide to go back with sod we think we can grow it and not have to do artificial thing. And then at the same time, the very first area that we had playground equipment, which is near the bathrooms back, we have two pieces of playground equipment and a little hill with a slide right that will all be removed. And we’re putting a rather significant we call it tot lot, but basically playground equipment for kids that are like four or five or younger. So to a degree and that one has like a space theme.
Rico Figliolini 0:27:58
Brian Johnson 0:27:58
Pretty cool stuff. You may have seen it’s. Some pretty cool stuff we’re putting in there. So to a degree, you’re going to have playground that’s oriented to five and under and you could move over to where the Qantas and the other big part is that’s really five and call it five to 17. And why I put 17 on there is because the fitness trail, which is the third project that has changed from really a location in the woods that were located, a few obstacles that you could use to train, get stronger fitness. That’s how it started. But as it’s grown, our insurance carriers have said that’s no longer a trail in the woods. With a few fitness stations, you’ve created essentially an obstacle course. And there are some obstacles that are too dangerous for anybody to use.
Rico Figliolini 0:29:04
The rope climbing maybe and some other.
Brian Johnson 0:29:06
Stuff you need to fence that area. So it’s not so easy for anybody to go through. You need to funnel everybody past one location where you can put signage and that area is going to ultimately be 18 and older for those who are. And so when we realized that we had to put a fence around it, given that it is a different feel because it’s in the woods. Everything in there is built out of wood organically. It’s not built out of or bought out of a playground book. We didn’t want to do your typical fence. We certainly didn’t want chain link. We thought a metal fence wouldn’t look right. So we talked to some fencing companies and we made the decision to stay with the rustic feel. So the fencing around that area will actually be more of like your colonial fort fence, which is the vertical trees that’ll be how that fence looks, including we’ll have a few what will look like little guard towers. So it’ll actually look like a fort from the outside.
Rico Figliolini 0:30:23
Those aren’t guard towers that kids can climb up into.
Brian Johnson 0:30:29
They’re decorative and they’re not all that tall, but they’re more exactly. One of them is going to be underneath it is going to be storage, some of the equipment, but from the outside it’ll look like it has a little feature. But that’s what our insurance company needed us to do. And it makes sense. We have seen people who had no business being there, including parents. We’ve had four or five year old kids that are trying something. Their parents are just standing there and you’re like, really?
Rico Figliolini 0:31:01
Some people have no sense of responsibility.
Brian Johnson 0:31:04
So all of those are the goal is and a few of them we obviously couldn’t start until December 1, which is the day after our last concert. But the goal is all of those are done by May 1, which is when we start our next concert series next year and when we’re starting to use this stuff on a regular basis. But this past week’s Sci-fi Festival is a good example. That town center is becoming a really good location for some unique events. The forum will hear in about, I think they’ve got five, six weeks, will open the first phase of the boulevard. I just had a meeting with them yesterday. They are starting on the next phase of the boulevard right away on the parking deck. They’re going to start on the phase getting down by Belk right away because they feel like they can absorb the parking as is without having to add any. And what’s really going to drive the absolute need for the parking deck is when they start on either the hotel or the multifamily there, but they can flow there’s enough parking without it. So they’re not waiting on that parking deck to be done. They’re really yeah, so that’ll be good because now they’re going to have those more jewel box, more event space, more areas they can activate.
Rico Figliolini 0:32:37
Yeah, because they were going to have a band stand there, I believe, and more green and stuff. The weren’t going to do that until the end of 25 or 24, I.
Brian Johnson 0:32:47
Thought, because they wanted the parking deck to be done. But they’re like, we don’t need to have the parking deck done until the hotel and or multifamily are done. That’s when you’re going to get the people who really use it. So the parking deck is still slated, but they’re not so worried about it being done. They can be working on it while they’re doing the other. So that’s good news because that means that that space can be finalized and activated, that main boulevard without us having to wait on a manslaughter, for sure.
Rico Figliolini 0:33:22
And better for them because I think the more activity the forum generates like that, it’ll be better for them, it’ll be better economically for them and it’ll be better for the people that go to the forum. There’ll be lots more to do, a lot more area to play in if you want. And for those that are interested, as far as the trail goes, the fitness trail, I think October 23 is going to be the Peach record is decathlon, so if people are interested, they can, I think, watch it. It’s already booked out to its maximum, I think, to 72 participants.
Brian Johnson 0:33:58
Rico Figliolini 0:33:59
It’s technically sold out, but you can go there. You can check it out, see how it’s being used for this decathlon, which is the second annual, I think, or third annual, actually.
Brian Johnson 0:34:10
Third annual, yeah.
Rico Figliolini 0:34:11
Kind of neat. So definitely a lot’s going on. I think that we’ll be able to talk more in our next podcast about a few more things like the feasibility study on the pickleball. That final report you said may be coming out today as we record this, and then at some point, city council may decide what they want to do with that study as far as moving forward or anything. And I’m sure there’ll be other things. That’s definitely more work being done in the city as far as even down on Petrie Corner Circle and some of the other development work being done.
Brian Johnson 0:34:53
Yeah, we’ve got a number of big projects on the south side that we’re working on. But right now we’re in property acquisition mode. And until you have everything under control of the city, you can only do so far. If I want to make improvements to your yard, I can’t do it until you sell me your property.
Rico Figliolini 0:35:14
Rico yes, correct.
Brian Johnson 0:35:15
I kind of limited on that. We’ll say soon because it’s out to bid. We have a program of gateway signage into the city, and the program is for when you are entering the city on major roadways, is for there to be a marquee sign kind of announcing, I’m coming into Peace Street corners. The marquee symbol or improvement will be kind of the lantern that you see on the four lanterns on the Pet Bridge. That design is part of it. So we have a couple of those out there, but we also have two main ones that are inside the city limits or not right when you come into the city. But they’re significant locations. One predates the city, and that is the Paul Duke Parkway location. When you’re coming in on 141, that one’s getting a big facelift and upgrade with the Paul Duke Parkway will still be there. That’s iconic, really, but it’ll have the lantern added to it, the feature additional landscaping. And then on the other end to book in kind of that main spine. Within the city where Medlock Bridge and Petrie Parkway intersect, there is an on ramp heading north towards Johnson Creek. That when you combine that with Medlock Bridge Road itself and Peachtree Parkway has a big triangle right there, that entire triangle is going to get redone. And we’ll have a Marquee sign that will be oriented to the north. So you’re seeing when you come in from the north, but we’re also taking over ownership of the maintenance of that entire triangle. So it’ll be redone in a way that it will no longer be used by Georgia Dot or others to store construction material or whatever that project. Those two ends are out to bid right now. So at a certain point, within the next month or two, you may start seeing work on that as well. But we also got that’s not the only locations we want. We got a lot of other locations in the city where those gateway signage will go. So a lot of things those are some of the projects that people are going to start seeing here shortly.
Rico Figliolini 0:37:38
And as far as intersection improvements, just Bush Road and Medlock Bridge Road, that’s almost mean at this point. There’s some lights being strung.
Brian Johnson 0:37:50
That project is almost complete. That’s been a difficult one. But the final is Gwinnett County Department of Transportation, who is one who manages the signals itself. They added an upgraded system. And so you’ll notice on there that the span wires that are holding the signals behind the ones that are working are ones that are covered with trash bags. The new ones will go online soon. They’ll remove the old ones and when the new ones go in, there’ll be some signs hanging from the wires next to the traffic signal. So when you’re sitting at the light, it’ll tell you the lane you’re in, what it’ll do once you cross that intersection so that you’ll have a little bit better of an idea if you’re on Medlock, wanting to head north into Johns Creek. Which lane am I in? The right lane.
Rico Figliolini 0:38:43
Brian Johnson 0:38:44
Coming off of Bush Road. That one will also have that’ll help. And then the sidewalk was just poured and the final sidewalk, the landscaping of that. And the final slotting is slated for, I believe, next week. So that’ll all be done. Then we’ll paint the pedestrian cross walks on the intersection and that’ll be done.
Rico Figliolini 0:39:09
It’s almost there and there’s still more to come.
Brian Johnson 0:39:11
It’s only been a couple of years.
Rico Figliolini 0:39:15
There’s so much more to come and never ending for the city. It’s almost like owning a house. Any homeowner understands that there’s always maintenance, always things to be fixed, always things to be done. It’s no different than the city of Peachtree Corners. I do appreciate, Brian, your time with me, especially after coming from where you did today. It’s always good to have responsibility, people in place, be able to do the right things and stuff. So sure we’ll get more information as the day or two go by with regard to that robbery. So thank you. It’s been a while since we’ve actually done this. It’s actually been probably six weeks, seven weeks, I think, something.
Brian Johnson 0:39:59
Yeah. Thanks again, as always, for providing this communication vehicle so that those who watch it can get information that it may be not as easy to get or as quick to get as you providing this opportunity for me to provide an update on what we got going on.
Rico Figliolini 0:40:18
Yeah, no, for sure. And everyone that’s listening to this should always check out, subscribe to our newsletter. That goes out two or three times a week. Go to our website LivinginPeachtreeCorners.com. Certainly follow us on Facebook, YouTube to be able to get these podcasts that come out on a regular basis. So I do appreciate your time, Brian, and everyone else, thank you again. And let me just tell you to go visit our sponsors because we do have two great sponsors, Clearwave Fiber, that takes care of over a thousand businesses in the city of Peachtree Corners with their Internet service. Different from a normal Internet company. You got someone to speak to in those places and they help out, check them out. Clearwave Fiber, as well as EV Remodeling Inc. Eli, who owns the company, lives here in Peacetree Corners. Great family. They do a lot of good work out there. From design to build, evremodelinginc.com is the place to check out. Thank you again for supporting our journalism, our podcast and our magazines. We appreciate you all and be safe out there and take care.
What to know about voter registration and municipal elections in Peachtree Corners
On this episode of Peachtree Corners Life, Diane Fisher, a representative from the League of Women Voters Gwinnett chapter, delves into the world of voter registration and municipal elections in Georgia. With the implementation of automatic voter registration and the upcoming municipal elections in Peachtree Corners, Fisher sheds light on the importance of informed voting and active participation. From understanding address updates to exploring the power of thoughtful voting, listeners will gain valuable insights on enhancing voter engagement in their community. This podcast serves as a guide for residents to make their voices heard and shape the future of Peachtree Corners, Georgia.
Diane’s Email: Fisher@lwvga.org League of Women Voters
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/lwvgwinnettcounty/
“Being a prepared voter means being an informed voter. It’s not just about the presidential election, but about all the congressional seats, the House and Senate seats, and county positions. So, there will be an awful lot on that ballot. Knowing when and who is on the ballot is crucial for an informed vote.”Diane Fisher
0:00:00 – Introduction
0:01:54 – Voter registration process and information for new residents in Georgia
0:05:13 – Voter maintenance and the importance of updating voter registration
0:08:34 – Absentee voting process and how to request an absentee ballot
0:10:52 – Municipal elections in Peachtree Corners, Georgia
0:17:18 – Being a prepared voter for the 2024 elections
0:20:37 – The need to know who’s on the ballot
0:21:31 – Sharing personal experience about involvement in politics
0:23:02 – Misleading information and the importance of understanding the ballot
0:23:45 – Lesser-known positions on the ballot and the impact of voters’ knowledge
0:25:42 – Thoughtful voting and participation in local elections
0:28:04 – Encouraging voters to engage with candidates and attend events
0:29:39 – The process for third-party and write-in candidates in Georgia for the 2024 elections
0:31:25 – Seeking additional information that Georgia voters should know
0:33:28 – Advising voters to verify their voting location due to possible changes
0:34:17 – Closing
Rico Figliolini 0:00:00
Hi, everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life. Appreciate everyone joining us. We have a special guest today from the League of Women Voters, Diane Fisher. Hey, Diane, thanks for joining me.
Diane Fisher 0:00:11
Nice to be here.
Rico Figliolini 0:00:13
Yeah, this is going to be a good educational podcast. We’re going to be discussing how to be a prepared voter and everything that comes with that for 2024 and municipal elections. But before we get to that, I just want to thank our sponsors, Clearwave Fiber, our corporate sponsor. They’re an internet providing business here in Peachtree Corners, serving over a thousand businesses. Peachtree Corners Life, they’re actually based in the Southeast, and they provide better than what you would expect from a cable provider. Fast Internet connection, great support, especially to businesses and residents. So check them out. Clearwave Fiber also check out EV Remodeling, Inc. Eli, who is the owner of the company. Him and his family live here in Peachtree Corners. It’s a great business. They do design to build renovation work. Lots of good activity out there, lots of good references for them. So check them out, Evremodelinginc.com, and you’ll be able to find out a little bit more about our two supporters that way. So let’s get right into the show. Diane, I appreciate you joining us. League of Women Voters, it’s been around for quite a while. You are the Gwinnett chapter of the organization, correct?
Diane Fisher 0:01:28
We are the Gwinnett chapter. The national organization has been around since 1920, founded out of the movement for women’s suffrage. And we in Gwinnett in this iteration, have been around since 2019. Comes and goes. And so it is relatively new coming back. And so that’s where we are now.
Rico Figliolini 0:01:54
Excellent. So I saw you, I met you at the Peachtree Corners Festival, which is part of what you all do, outreach to the community. And you were out there, I think, at the time when I passed, you were registering a new voter that came on and she was asking questions so similar to what we’re going to do here. We want to know a little bit about how if you’re a new voter and you haven’t voted yet, or if you just moved to the state of Georgia and you have to register here to vote. Because obviously, from where someone comes from, you have to register in the state that you’re going to be voting in at the residence that you’re going to be voting in. So tell us a little bit about what would be needed for someone to register new here in the state of Georgia and Gwinnett County.
Diane Fisher 0:02:40
Sure. So in Georgia, we have automatic voter registration through the DDS, through driver services. And so when anyone gets a new license or changes an address on a license or does anything with DDS, they actually are automatically registered to vote. So we actually have very high voter registration in Georgia because of that. What doesn’t happen, though, is sometimes people you know move down the street, sometimes they move across town, sometimes they move within a county, sometimes they move out of the county. And you do, as you mentioned, need to be registered to vote at your current address. And so it’s important for everyone to make sure that they take care of making sure that that happens. Because sometimes people don’t always update a license in a timely fashion, but they actually move. And the reason why it’s linked to where you live is because who you vote for is determined by where you live, what precincts, and so it is important that you are registered your current address so you can always check. One of the best resources for checking the status of your registration is the Secretary of State has their website which is MVP, SOS ga gov and if you put in your name and birth date and county you can find out where you’re registered to, if you’re registered, where you’re registered, what precincts you vote for, where you vote. All of that information is available on that site. And so we encourage every voter before every election to check the status of their registration, to make sure that everything is above board, that it’s where you need it to be and that nothing happened. Because there is a list maintenance that happens as a regular part of the process and sometimes people are put moved to inactive status if they miss a notice or something like that. So we just always want to make sure that everybody checks their status, which makes sense.
Rico Figliolini 0:04:55
I just did that for two of my kids, I showed them how to do it because they hadn’t voted since they hadn’t voted. So I think one of them, in a decade maybe voted once and I said there’s maintenance, they could purge you from the list and they were still on the list, right?
Diane Fisher 0:05:13
So if you don’t vote in two federal election cycles, then you are moved to inactive status and that starts a process of eventually dropping you off the roll. So you’re not obligated to vote in elections. But obviously we encourage everyone to vote, but it is important to respond to those kinds of requests that you get because they probably did get some kind of notice in the mail indicating that, questioning if they are still at address, that they live, that they were registered, right, no doubt.
Rico Figliolini 0:05:48
And I think younger people have a bit more of a problem following that up because it’s not on their to do list, obviously. I think the demographics show that older people more regularly, younger people less regularly, unless it’s a presidential race and even still sometimes it just depends. And COVID hasn’t helped either, people moving back home with their parents, whether they moved in from out of state, maybe they still wanted to vote for if they were living in New York, maybe they still wanted to do an absentee ballot back up there, and that’s possible, but they wouldn’t be able to vote down, right, right.
Diane Fisher 0:06:26
You can only be registered to vote in one location. And quite honestly, one thing that people don’t know is that if you register so say you move I’ll use your example from New York and you move to Georgia and you register to vote in Georgia. There is not a process like an automatic unregistering. You from New York, you actually have to request that. My daughter, when she moved out of state, it took us a long time to get her off of the voter rolls, know, because you actually have to request that to happen. Most people do not think that that’s something that they have to do. And that’s why sometimes the roles are not updated or updated. You might show up on a place where you have no intention of voting and never voted because you’ve moved and you just didn’t think that you need to do anything about it.
Rico Figliolini 0:07:17
Sure, I think you’re right. Most of my friends would not even think about, oh, I need to know if someone know. Technically, you could end up doing a mail in ballot to New York, let’s say, and vote here, and no one would know the difference, apparently. Obviously we don’t want that happening.
Diane Fisher 0:07:39
There have been cases before the state election board that come, people being caught doing that, and it is not situation. So yes, that is illegal.
Rico Figliolini 0:07:50
It’s a federal offense.
Diane Fisher 0:07:51
It is a federal offense. That is certainly not something that we encourage. And most people who register, they move someplace, they register, they have no intention of voting elsewhere. But young people particularly, or people who are transient, it does mean that you have to pay a little bit more attention and make a plan to vote. I think it’s also important to think about not just being registered, it’s then knowing when elections are, knowing what your plan will be. Will you vote absentee, will you vote early advanced voting, will you vote on election day? What’s that plan? To make sure that you’re actually being able to vote.
Rico Figliolini 0:08:34
So in the state of Georgia, if I’m going on vacation or even an absentee, you don’t need an excuse for an absentee ballot. You can ask for that.
Diane Fisher 0:08:44
Rico Figliolini 0:08:45
So you could go online to one of the sites or which site to go to to get an absentee ballot.
Diane Fisher 0:08:51
Yes. So that depends on the election. And I will say, and I only raise that because we’re coming up on municipal elections here in Gwinnett County, actually statewide, but also specifically here in Peachtree Corners and in Gwinnett, the county does not run the municipal elections. Every city runs their own municipal election. So the answer for coming up for the November 7 election, which will be the municipal election here in Peachtree Corners, is that you need to request the absentee ballot from the county clerk in Peachtree Corners. And if you go to the website, you can get that information. There’s a form there that you can request the absentee ballot for the Peachtree Corners election. Typically for every other election, you would go to the county. Well, actually either the Secretary of state’s website or the county Board of elections office, and you can get the form there. One of the changes that happened in election forms is that you can’t register just on an online portal anymore. You have to print out the application because it has to have a wet signature. It has to actually have an actual signature on it. So you have to print off the form, fill it out, sign it, and then you can send it back digitally. But you can’t just I think there was a time when there was a portal where you could just go on and put in your information and request it. So now you have to print out the form and then return it to the county election office.
Rico Figliolini 0:10:29
But you can scan that form, return.
Diane Fisher 0:10:31
It digitally, scan it, or take a photo of it, and then email it back to the elections office and do it.
Rico Figliolini 0:10:40
So they’re just forcing you to print it out to do that website, which.
Diane Fisher 0:10:45
Means that you now have to have access to a printer, right?
Rico Figliolini 0:10:49
How many people do know?
Diane Fisher 0:10:52
And so that is the process now and where you go. And again, because Gwinnett is unusual, Gwinnett’s one of the few counties in Georgia that the municipalities run their own elections. Most other counties in the area, Fulton, Jacab, the counties run the municipal elections as well. And so what that means for us here in Gwinnett and in Peachtree Corners is that when you go to vote on election day for the municipal elections, you will not go to your regular location where you normally would are used to voting. So at Simpson elementary or at Peachtree Corners Baptist Church or any of the different locations where you always go to your regular precinct location, everybody in Peachtree Corners for the municipal election will vote at City Hall, down around in the room, around the bottom, the community trust room, around the left side of the building. That’s where elections are held for the county, for the city, I’m sorry, for the city.
Rico Figliolini 0:12:02
And there’s one open seat, one open contested seat, I should say.
Diane Fisher 0:12:09
Every other election cycle we would have. So in this case, on the ballot is the mayor, post one, post three, and post five. So the only contested seat is the post five. And post five is an at large seat. And so that means that everybody, Peachtree Corners will vote for that seat. Post one and three are geographically defined, so the first three posts are based on geography. So post one, I think, is the southern section. And then three is the sort of the northern part of Peachtree Corners. So Alex Wright, Is and Phil Sod are in those seats, and those are uncontested seats. And then, of course, the mayor’s race is also citywide, and that is uncontested as well.
Rico Figliolini 0:13:07
So people understand this, come November, you’re going to have to go to two different places to do this.
Diane Fisher 0:13:15
No, the only election in 2020, right. The only election in 2023 is the municipal election.
Rico Figliolini 0:13:23
Diane Fisher 0:13:23
There have been times when you’ve had to go to two places because there were simultaneous elections, but that is not the case now. So November 7 and actually early voting and early voting does start for the municipal election on Monday, October 16. So Monday through Friday from October 16 through November 3 and then October 21 and October 20 Eighth, which are Saturdays from nine to five, is early voting. So you can go for three weeks early voting, including two Saturdays. And then, of course, on Election Day is seven to 07:00 a.m. To 07:00 P.m., election Day, November 7, and that will be just at the City Hall. If you go to your regular polling location, there won’t be anything going on there other than school or church or whatever might be happening.
Rico Figliolini 0:14:19
So people should also be aware, I think, when they send in the absentee ballot, how long do they have? How does it get date stamped if it arrives three days later? I mean, how is that process explain?
Diane Fisher 0:14:32
So, legally, your absentee ballot needs to arrive, in this case, City Hall by 07:00 P.m. On Election day. If it gets there the next day, it’s not going to count. It has to arrive. So if you’re going to be voting with an absentee ballot, you need to make sure that you’ve planned ahead to request it. And I would say request it like today. When you hear this, make sure you request it, and then as soon as it comes, fill it out. And you can actually I mean, if you are local and you’re just going to be out of town, you can actually just bring it down to City Hall. Worry about the postal service. Obviously, if you’re a student who lives out of the area, needs to mail it again, do all of that life ASAP, because the time is a very limited window.
Rico Figliolini 0:15:31
Okay. And just because I’m thinking along this line, if someone was going to drop it off, like if I was going to drop off my son’s ballot, I could drop that off at City Hall. That’s okay.
Diane Fisher 0:15:42
Yes, you can drop off a ballot for immediate family, relatives, so your wife, your kids, a parent. You can’t, though, start collecting from people in your neighborhood and bringing those in, but for close family.
Rico Figliolini 0:16:00
Okay. All right, that sounds good. So the League of Women Voters is known for providing good nonpartisan information to get people to do to vote, to fulfill their civic responsibilities and all. And we talked a little bit about what it means to be a prepared voter before we started. So tell us a little bit, Diane, what does it mean to be a prepared voter going to 2024 into the presidential race, election year, where there’s going to be a lot on the ballot, I’m sure in a variety of states, but even here in Georgia, sure, because.
Diane Fisher 0:17:59
It’s not just about the presidential election. There will be all the congressional seats, there will be all of the House, the Georgia House seats and the Georgia Senate seats. There will be county positions, all of the county constitutional positions will be on the ballot. So there will be an awful lot on that ballot. And so being prepared voter means being an informed voter. So obviously, the first is to know when you need to be voting. And there are lots of elections in 2024, starting in March. The presidential preferential primary will be in March. Then we’ve got the regular primaries in May, and then we’ve got November elections and then any runoffs that may need to happen as well. So there will be a lot of elections. So it’s not just go in and vote once and be done with it. So that’s one thing knowing when all those different elections are. The second is knowing who’s on the ballot. And through that MVP site that I mentioned earlier, the MVP. SOS Ga gov, you can pull up it’s not available right now, but it will be available for 2024. All of who is on your ballot, you can pull up sample ballots. And so that will be really helpful to know ahead of time because I hear people all the time saying, like, I got into the polling booth and I had no idea that there were all of those things on the ballot. I wasn’t prepared. And so you can be prepared by pulling up the sample ballot and actually marking, doing your research. And there are lots of different ways to get information. There are candidate forums. Certainly the candidates themselves are out there putting information out. Will. The league is known for doing candidate information forums as well, and we likely will be doing particularly for our county races. The state may be doing some larger scale ones, but here in Gwinnett, the Gwinnett League focuses very much on what’s happening here in so, you know, doing your research in terms of getting information about not only what’s on the ballot, but then being able to check out the candidates so that you know who aligns with your values and with the things that are important to you. And so that becomes part of the conversation it’s important to have.
Rico Figliolini 0:20:37
Yeah. Coming from New York, I was involved quite a bit in political politics when I was younger, 1820. You see the things that go on, the amount of so doing it for such a long period of time to hear people say, I’m not prepared, or I don’t know who’s on the ballot. It gets really frustrating when there is a lot of information out there between news outlets. Granted, there’s a variety of news outlets, so some agendas on some of these outlets, but for the most part, you’ll be able to get the information out there. Candidates are especially local candidates are doing more door to door campaigning. You will get it inundated with mail, right? I mean, last year or the year before was just ridiculous. The amount of mail that was going out, literally three or four postcards a day coming in.
Diane Fisher 0:21:31
And you have to be careful about that mail because it’s not just the candidates who are sending out mail now. It’s all kinds of organizations, and some of the information is not always accurate or it’s political spin. And so I think if you’re looking to find out candidates positions on things, that’s where it’s important to look at various sorts. So the league does run nationally, a website called Vote Four One One, where we reach out to candidates to get their input so that you can hear from them what they believe about certain things. So we ask questions. There are other sort of neutral, if you will, sites. Alopecia has sort of a candidate profile site. So there are ways that you can get sort of just factual information candidates, as opposed to sort of the political spin that can sometimes make noise. And so we do encourage, but at the very least, pull up that ballot to say, this is what’s going to be on there. So you don’t get in and say, I didn’t know county, the clerk of the court, I don’t even know what that is. Those are the things that sort of sneak up on people.
Rico Figliolini 0:23:02
I mean, they’re lesser known positions. They get less exposure. People either tend to skip over them or they tend to, depending on the politics, tend to either vote for the incumbent because there’s an eye next to it, because that seems safer, or if they want to stir the pot, they’re voting for the other candidate to come in. It’s a variety of reasons, right, that people vote.
Diane Fisher 0:23:24
Rico Figliolini 0:23:24
And then there’s referendums on the ballot, and because they’re written in such legalese, sometimes you may be reading it in that moment at the ballot box and not realize really what it’s saying, because some of it’s written in such a way, you would think, oh, that’s easy, that’s what that means. And then you find out later, no, that’s not what that meant.
Diane Fisher 0:23:45
Right. If I vote yes, it’s actually voting against. That’s right, because of the way that it’s written. Right. And so I think that those referendum and those also those are available, you’ll be able to pull those up on your sample ballot at the MVP site so that you can actually see it and read it and do your research. I mean, I know that I sit down when my kids were first voting, we would sit down and literally go through the ballot and research candidates together. And the referendum questions, even life, talk about what they mean and what the pros and cons, and if we didn’t have an answer, we disagreed or whatever, we talk about it. Sometimes we disagreed and they would vote one way and I would vote a different way. But point being that having that conversation and being informed because that is how we citizens are being able to make sure that what we want is actually happening. I mean, you hear so often people saying like, it doesn’t really matter who I vote for if I vote, because it just doesn’t matter, my voice doesn’t matter. Well, it matters if you do it thoughtfully. And if everybody were to participate, then we’re all in a better place. Here in Peachtree Corners, just going back, we have 27,000 registered voters, and in the last six municipal elections, the most we’ve ever had is a 10% turnout. So like 2700 voters. So when people complaining about whatever they might be complaining about, about the city, you need to actually vote to have your perspective put forward.
Rico Figliolini 0:25:42
It’s the frustrating part. Yeah. When I read things on nextdoor and people say, these people, they have an agenda, this is what they want to do, and it’s like it doesn’t take much. You’re right. Sometimes there’s more than 2700 votes. Right. There’s more than that, depending on the year now, really.
Diane Fisher 0:26:05
More than 10% of the voting. I think that when we first became a city that was a higher turnout, but since then, yeah, it’s a very small and we know there are elections that have been won by 15 votes, there are elections that have been won by one vote. And so especially in these smaller elections, makes it more important to get out there and have your voice heard.
Rico Figliolini 0:26:39
Yeah, especially because, I mean, in small elections like this, it depends on how many friends you have. You’re right. There was one election, I think was the last election that we had, where it was a 14 vote difference or something along those lines. If you want to make change. You have to be involved. You have to knock doors. You can’t just send postcards. You have to meet your neighbors, your voters, and figure it out.
Diane Fisher 0:27:10
I will say, I think candidates these days are very open to certainly the local candidates, the county positions, the state House representatives, and so mean you can go onto their websites, know, ask for a meeting. They will meet with you. And I think that that is important. And it’s important to meet with not just the people who you think you might agree with, but also the other side to hear what they stand for and what they plan on doing. And I think that we are in a time when it is easy to access your candidates, particularly at the more local levels, and go to events that they’re having or send an email and say, I’d love to talk to you. Will you have coffee with me?
Rico Figliolini 0:28:04
Right. Yeah. Some of them will put out their cell phone numbers, and you can literally call them and talk to them because how many people in their district, how many people actually can actually call their representatives? And I think people should be aware that their representative is they’re there to be able to expedite things. The constituent service, if they have a problem with government that rep, that represents you, is there to help make things easier or to at least guide you into what you need to do. They’re there for a reason. They work for you. I know that’s, like everyone says, they work for me. But they do work for you, and you’re the one that votes them in, and you should be able to they’re there to represent you. So to fill a purpose that way.
Diane Fisher 0:28:52
Yeah. You have resources and access that we don’t have, and they’re happy to facilitate things for us. Yes.
Rico Figliolini 0:29:00
So let me ask you. I’m a bit of a political junkie, but you don’t know about Georgia politics as much as I probably should after being here since 95. But now that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. For example, decides he’s going to run as an independent candidate because the Democratic Party, according to him, has not given him the right for a debate or to run properly, they’ve changed the rules a bit, I guess. What happens with a third party candidate in 2024 when you live in the state of Georgia? Can you do a write in on a candidate like that?
Diane Fisher 0:29:39
So, two different things. There is a process for being put on the ballot as a third party candidate. And my presumption, I mean, we’ll often find a Green Party candidate on the ballot or things. So there is a process for that. Write ins are a whole nother story in Georgia. So I know a lot of people know, I’m going to write it in my husband, I’m going to write my neighbor, or I’m going to write in whatever you actually have to register to be a write in candidate. So only, the only write in votes that will count are people who have gone through the process of actually registering to be a writing candidate. If you don’t write in one of those people, it’s not going to count. So they don’t do a tally of all of those. Rico you couldn’t get 100 votes as a write in because unless you obviously go, yeah, so that notion of sort, I’m just going to write somebody in, in Georgia, it’s not possible. The different part, you do not have to be just a Republican or a Democrat to show up on ballot. There are processes for being a registered candidate from whatever party it happens to be.
Rico Figliolini 0:31:11
What should a Georgia voter know that we haven’t covered that may be trivial or not trivial, but detail that most people know that we should mean? Is there anything gone over?
Diane Fisher 0:31:25
So I will say that one of the things that I always say about voters is voters are creatures of habit. So if the last election I showed up and voted in this location, and I voted in that location for the past three elections or ten elections or 20 elections, don’t always presume that things stay the same. We know that we just had so, for example, we know that we just had redistricting with the census and numbers have shifted. And so there is a shifting of precincts and so on. And most of the time you’re going to stay in the same place, but always, again, check to make sure that you know where you’re voting. And just because you always voted at Simpson or New Age building or wherever it might be, don’t presume that that’s where you voted last time, that’s where you’re going to vote this time. Because sometimes because of the ways that the numbers have shifted, they shift. So again, I think it’s really important to always check, even if you think I’m pretty involved, and I check my voter page periodically and certainly before every election, just to make sure that, first of all, my precincts, not just the precinct is the same, but that I know who I’m voting for. Because we know that there were changes in congressional seats and House and Senate races and even County Commission seats. We have a new County Commission situation now from a couple of years ago. And so just knowing where the lines are, because the lines do sometimes change. So I think that that’s something that particularly coming right off of the redistricting situation that we had. If you haven’t voted recently since the last election, you may find that things have changed a little bit.
Rico Figliolini 0:33:28
Makes sense. I know that state House and Senate seats have changed. People have disappeared, or they’ve been drawn out of a district that they were in.
Diane Fisher 0:33:40
They may be running, and the lines have just changed. The numbers have changed. The lines have changed. Yeah, it’s.
Rico Figliolini 0:33:46
Amazing. So it really should go to that website that they have mentioned, MVP.
Diane Fisher 0:33:50
SOS ga gov, if you just remember MVP, if you start typing in MVP and in Georgia it’ll show up. And that really is if you remember one thing from this conversation, I would say remember that. And then the other piece is remember that for the upcoming election in Peachtree Corners, you’re going to be voting at City Hall right.
Rico Figliolini 0:34:17
For 2023. All right, cool. I think we covered quite a bit. We’ve given places that people can go. Is there anything else that you want to share, Diane?
Diane Fisher 0:34:31
I don’t think just I think if we want our government and our society to work for us and we need to be actively engaged with the process and the League of Women Voters is always happy to give information. I get calls all the time, emails from friends, neighbors, people across the county asking questions. So you can always call the county election office. But if you I’m a local Peachtree Corners gal, people are welcome to reach out to me. It’s Fisher@lwvga.org and I’m happy to answer any questions that you have.
Rico Figliolini 0:35:13
Cool. If anyone wants to volunteer for the League of Women Voters, they can reach out to you.
Diane Fisher 0:35:18
Absolutely. We are always looking for new members. As I said, we are relatively new in this iteration and we started right in 2019 and just as we got our feet wet and going COVID happened. And so we are eager to engage people who want to do voter education, voter registration work, helping people. We are nonpartisan. We do not support candidates or parties. So we really are just wanting to make sure that people have the information that they need to be able to exercise their rights.
Rico Figliolini 0:35:54
Excellent. Doing great work. I mean, that’s the biggest battle, getting people educated because walking into that booth, not knowing three quarters of that ballot would be the worst thing to be doing. So I appreciate, Diane, your time with us. We had a little power outage before so this recording took a little later than it was and there was not even a storm cloud in the sky and yet we had a power outage. So go figure. But appreciate you helping with educating our listeners on this. Thank you everyone for being with us. All these links will be in the show notes as well. But do remember MVP, I think if you put MVP elections, it’ll probably pop right up as the first thing on that page. But thanks again, Diane, and appreciate your time.
Diane Fisher 0:36:41
Thanks for having me.
Rico Figliolini 0:36:42
Tips and Insight into Health insurance and open enrollment 2023
Health insurance and open enrollment are demystified by industry experts Erica Dumpel and John Czajkowski. Listeners will gain valuable insights and advice on topics like Medicare enrollment, the impact of politics on health insurance, the rise of state-based exchanges, the financial benefits of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), considerations for different age groups, and employer-based insurance. This comprehensive discussion equips individuals with the knowledge they need to navigate the complexities of health insurance, ensuring they make informed decisions to protect their well-being.
0:00:00 – Introduction
0:01:18 – Erica’s experience and background in the health insurance industry
0:02:09 – John Czajkowski and his role in the family-owned insurance brokerage
0:03:51 – Medicare and the open enrollment period
0:06:57 – Seeking assistance for Medicare enrollment
0:08:03 – Explanation of Medicare coverage in relation to employer-based insurance for individuals close to retirement
0:08:47 – The complexities of health insurance and options for different age groups
0:17:07 – Health insurance plans and considerations for families.
0:21:30 – Discussion about HSA and its uses
0:26:02 – Self-employed individuals and their health insurance options.
0:29:17 – Medicare and its impact on dependents.
0:31:20 – Options for college students and their health insurance.
0:32:07 – A strategic approach to health insurance.
0:36:12 – Compliance for employers and the ICRA alternative.
0:38:48 – Closing
Rico Figliolini 0:00:00
Hi, everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life. I appreciate you guys joining us. Special guests today we have Erica Dumpel, founder and CEO of CDA, inc. Hey, Erica, nice to meet you.
Erica Dumpel 0:00:14
Hey, nice to be here.
Rico Figliolini 0:00:15
And we have John Czajkowski, who’s the president of the same company. This is a family business. And John is Erica’s son, who joined the business back in 2009, I believe, if that’s correct. Right. And the business, what we’re going to be discussing today is health insurance. As you may all know, at some point, this is open enrollment coming up soon. If you’re close to retirement, you may be thinking about medicare or options there. So we’re going to have a conversation today about that. I’m going to let Erica and John sort of lead us down this road because I don’t know enough to always ask questions. And I’ll be asking questions at the right point, I’m sure, because I’ll be heading into deciding whether I want to do Medicare or what I have to do with Medicare come 2024. But you all came off a meeting this morning from downtown Norcross, where you met a bunch of people, I think Erica did, where they had questions about health insurance and such. But before we get all into that, why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself, Erica, and we’ll do the same with John.
Erica Dumpel 0:01:18
Okay. I came into the health insurance industry in 1975, so I have seen a lot of changes. We have a family business here, Peachtree Corners, actually in Tech Park. We have a staff that supports small group businesses, which is generally companies under 100 employees. We have a commitment to the individuals who work in those businesses or who are not covered through group insurance, as well as seniors who are having to grapple with the decisions about medicare depending on the size of their employer. Do they have to have it? Do they not have to have it if they are retiring? If they are not retiring? A lot of questions around that. And Rico, I know what you’re starting to go through with the mail that you receive about all this as well, so it can be a little daunting, for sure.
Rico Figliolini 0:02:07
John, tell us a little bit about yourself.
John Czajkowski 0:02:09
Okay. I am now president of this family owned insurance brokerage. I took over responsibility of the day to day as of January this year, 2023, and I’ve been doing this since 2009, as Erica mentioned. I have also seen a lot of change with the affordable care act happening in 2014 and with the way that the markets have adjusted to all of these new legislative requirements. I am also a very involved member of a trade association, the national association of benefits and insurance professionals. As of right now, I’m the president of Georgia, and I’m responsible for over 460 brokers that operate in the health insurance markets in this state.
Rico Figliolini 0:02:55
Cool. So insurance has always been complicated thing I think for people. Certainly it has been for me and everyone that I talk to. So many options. State of Georgia is different than the state of New York. Let’s say every state operates a bit different the mechanisms that can be used. And you’re right, things have changed. I mean I remember going on healthcare gov at one point. I don’t even know if at this point it’s necessary or if it’s where I need to be on at some point. I do have an employee insurance at this point but I may be looking at moving off that or will be moving off that when I turn 65 next year I think. So these are all things I think everyone has an issue with as far as getting some straight answers. Where can we start that makes sense? Erica, we’ll start with you. At what point? Where should we start on this?
Erica Dumpel 0:03:51
Okay, first let’s just start with it’s the worst time of year because everything is crushed into the end of the year. So the pressure of the medicare open enrollment which starts on Sunday, so between October 15 and December 7 there’s a lot of information out there for seniors. Then the individual open enrollment starts November 1 and goes through December 15 for a January 1 effective date. And add to that the majority of employer based plans renew in January. So there’s a lot of information floating around. So where do we start? It depends who you are, what you’re up to. So if you are a medicare person and you have a drug plan or a medicare advantage plan, you really need to go out to medicare gov, go through the breadcrumb trail, look at what the plans are for next year, make sure you’re in the right plan at the right pharmacy. If you are covered by individual insurance, it’s time to start looking and preparing to look at healthcare gov to make sure that you know what’s going on out there. If you are on an employer plan you should be receiving some kind of outline of future options in terms of deductibles copays plan designs. A lot of decisions to be made this time of year. People like us exist either as brokers for certain people or as consultants for others, depending where we can be of the biggest help.
Rico Figliolini 0:05:17
Let’s start with age groups I guess would make sense. Let’s start with my age group. I’m going to be a little like selfish here. So I’m heading into 65. I’ll be 65 in April, the beginning of April. So January, February, March. I’m told that January I should start looking at medicare. What exactly in brief, what are the bullet points, if you will, of what I should be doing come January?
Erica Dumpel 0:05:40
You need to go out to medicare gov, make sure you have a my Social Security account so that you can go in and enroll in medicare parts a and b. It’s not difficult, but be very careful. There are some odd nuances right now. I’ve run into some stuff recently that surprised us. One example, I did an enrollment with someone. The address was correct, except the country was listed as afghanistan. That will botch things really badly. And then they want you to send your original birth certificate to some address. No, we don’t do that. So if you can be three months ahead of it, do that, because if there’s going to be a glitch, that’s where it’s going to be. And no one has jurisdiction over the government, so we all have to untangle that.
Rico Figliolini 0:06:24
If so, when people do this and they apply, you shouldn’t have to submit any documentation because the federal government should already have that unless there’s an error.
Erica Dumpel 0:06:34
And the afghanistan, I think, was some kind of, I don’t know, space marker or something to tell somebody that the date of birth actually did not match what the individual put in, so the government had the wrong date of birth.
Rico Figliolini 0:06:46
Gotcha bizarre. Okay, so if I have issues and I decide that can’t go through this, can’t handle it, would your company do this for me?
Erica Dumpel 0:06:57
Yeah, I act as a medicare counselor, and we actually bring people through the enrollment. There’s a PDF and a PowerPoint that explains medicare, ABCD, medigap, why would I do this versus that? So it’s a full consult. We do charge for that. We can also then help with the enrollment in any parts of medicare. We are agnostic medicare, supplement medicare advantage, it doesn’t matter, but we really become the guide down this path.
Rico Figliolini 0:07:25
Okay, so that’s pretty much what needs to be done if you’re 65 or older. Right? I mean, that’s basically it. You need to make sure you’re on it. You apply for it three months out. You don’t want to wait until you’re 65 or certainly do it after you’re 65.
Erica Dumpel 0:07:40
Basically, if you are late without proper coverage, there are penalties, there are waiting, there are future dates. If you miss your open enrollment completely, you can only enroll the first quarter of the following year with the july 1 effective date. Imagine not having coverage for that.
Rico Figliolini 0:07:57
Have to people don’t have to be, quote, retired, taking retirement benefits to take advantage of medicare.
Erica Dumpel 0:08:03
In fact, for anyone who is employed, be very careful. If you work for a company that has less than 20 employees, if you don’t have medicare parts a and b in place, the commercial insurance carrier reserves the right to not cover the charges that medicare would otherwise be responsible for. That is a huge hole in your coverage.
Rico Figliolini 0:08:23
Okay, I didn’t know that. So being with a small company, 20 less employees, I turned 65, I’m on that private insurance. I really need to be on medicare is what you’re saying to me.
Erica Dumpel 0:08:34
Rico Figliolini 0:08:35
Okay. Otherwise you get penalized, which I guess makes sense because that private insurance company says, whoa, why should we be paying for this? The government pays for that.
Erica Dumpel 0:08:45
Medicare is primary.
John Czajkowski 0:08:46
Rico Figliolini 0:08:47
All right, cool. All right, so now let’s go a little further younger, if you will. So we’re in our forty s. Fifty s? Maybe 30s. We’re private insurance likely, or maybe an individual insurance if we’re not employed or if we’re 1099, that’s a whole different story where we’re self employed and how do we do that? So why don’t you break that down for us? Who wants to take that? John?
John Czajkowski 0:09:13
As I mentioned, 2014 the game changed and a lot of people were forced into purchasing private health insurance on the individual market or they got penalized. Unfortunately, politics plays a large role in our industry and without pointing any fingers, both parties, they have taken my industry and picked it up like a football and ran with it. So with that in mind, in the state of Georgia, we are still operating with Healthcare gov as the primary shopping and comparison tool. But our governor is very quickly building out a state based exchange. So many states, both red and blue, they have pursued this and it gives the state a lot more control over how monies are divvied up and enrollment platform buildouts, as well as being able to kind of puff out your chest. You know, we enrolled x number of bodies, so that just got halted by CMS under this new federal administration. And I do expect it to be the primary shopping portal for 2025 open enrollment. So likely have seen some commercials probably during the UGA games for Georgia access and I would encourage your listeners and watchers go check out the website right now. It is a little eye opening what we were prepared to move forward with because it is not, in my opinion, ready for primetime. I have been working in my other role as the President of Georgia, trying to encourage the state to reassess how we are approaching this. We were going to be the only state in the country that had pursued a state based exchange without having a centralized shopping and comparison tool. Once we flick that switch, we lose access to Healthcare Gov, which has a lot of federal funding built into it. And that’s something that I’ve been very involved with trying to make sure that when they do flick that switch, it’s ready for primetime. But Healthcare Gov right now is still the best shopping tool that I use in this office. It does show you all of the options that are out there. And another thing to consider is with a number of federal legislative changes and bills that have passed in the past couple of years, the thresholds for eligibility for financial aid or subsidy have been significantly expanded. Just a couple of years ago, family of three, older parents with kind of younger to middle aged child, middle aged in their 20s with a household income of let’s say $100,000, you would not be eligible for anything or a very small pittance of a subsidy amount. That’s free money from the government that you have applied towards your premium. So immediate discounting nowadays I can take that same family and they are very likely eligible for several hundred dollars a month in financial assistance. Again, free money from the government. It is designed to be applied towards your premiums. And that’s how this system should have been running since 2014. But with a national rollout of a program like this and with politics playing a role in it, one side of the fence holds the purse strings and the other side they’re able to pass substantial laws and there’s got to be some sort of meshing of the two in order for a system like this to be successful. So now we have opportunity for the next couple of years to really take advantage of the aid that we were supposed to have been receiving this entire time. So if you have gotten a bad taste in your mouth over the years with your individual insurance and have not gone back in to reassess do it, you might be surprised with what you’re eligible for.
Rico Figliolini 0:13:07
It sounds surprising because I do remember going on Healthcare Gov some years back and I got subsidized. My income was a little different than it is today, but didn’t see that subsidy later as my income grew. And so this sounds totally different than it was before.
John Czajkowski 0:13:25
Rico Figliolini 0:13:27
And if I remember correctly, I think part of the Healthcare Gov, like 80, 90% of it was being covered by federal funds. But at some .4 or five, six years into it, the state is supposed to take over the bulk of the money being used. I think at least that’s the way it was at one point, right? Funding, that the state would pick up more funding, bigger formula percentage portion of it. And is that why the state is trying to move towards their system? Because it sounds like the Georgia Access would actually give fewer people coverage because of income and other things and also provide less coverage. Even if you were able to get it, that would give you less coverage on your insurance. So is the state trying to say.
John Czajkowski 0:14:13
It’S more of just a platform at this point? So like Healthcare Gov, it’s just an enrollment tool and that’s what Georgia Access at this stage is looking to, or when the switch gets flicked, then the state is going to have a lot more say over eligibility for subsidy and the actual dollar amounts that you are able to pull from the system. But at the moment I’ll say thankfully, we’re not at that stage yet. There’s still some tweaks that need to be made on the website and I’m hoping over the next couple of months and into first quarter of next year that they’re going to have a lot more traction with what I’m hoping they’re building right now.
Rico Figliolini 0:15:02
Okay. But essentially, once the switch is done and it’s in state control, they will control how much money they will fund. Who control?
John Czajkowski 0:15:14
There are some federal guidelines they have to follow, but ultimately, the state makes a lot of rules they want us to adhere to.
Rico Figliolini 0:15:22
Okay. All right, so fine. We’re not there yet. I guess that’s okay. As far as picking plans, though, if come this enrollment period, what should families be looking at that are? I guess what would be the better thing to start with? Families where the head of household is self employed, or families where the parents are full time employed with health coverage? Where should we start and how should they be looking at that?
Erica Dumpel 0:15:54
I would say start with the families that are employed because a large percentage of people have their coverage through their employer, and generally there will be a couple of options. A high low, high, mid low type of thing. And the thing that we’ve always asked people is, how do you use this? Do you have something planned? Are you having a hip replaced? Are you on a program where you have constant need for treatment? Do you have a bunch of little kids running around with tubes in their ears and you’re at the pediatrician every year? That person is different from a lot of the other people who say, I never use this stuff. Most guys don’t even have a doctor’s visit until they hit their late 50s when things start to go wrong. So look at a high deductible. Look at how much you’re saving. Look at what you’re putting at risk. If there’s an opportunity to be in a high deductible health plan that allows HSA contributions, certainly jump all over that tax deductible money set aside that if you take it out for medical expenses, you never pay taxes on with a lower premium, that’s a win win. So from that perspective, that’s kind of how we look at it on that side. John looks at it similarly on the individual side, but jump on in on that one.
John Czajkowski 0:17:07
Yeah. There aren’t nearly as many plan design options on the individual market. There’s usually I really go in with the mindset of there’s a template out there with three different plans that really are consistent across the board. With every insurance carrier, there’s going to be one plan on the lower end, it’s going to have a higher deductible. Usually in that $6,000 range. You get copays for the bare necessities. You get the sniffles and go to the PCP. You go to a specialist, you got a flat dollar amount every time you go in for that. But in a lot of cases, you go in for blood work. You go in for advanced imaging like an MRI or a Cat scan, all the way up to hospitalizations and outpatient surgeries. All of that is applying towards your deductible. As long as you stay in the network, you’re going to get a discount, which is probably going to be a substantial reduction in your expenses. Whatever’s left over after that discounting, that falls on you, and that applies towards your deductible. And for a lot of us life. Myself, I’m 37. Knock on wood. I don’t really have much going on. That is probably where I’m going to gravitate. I don’t necessarily feel the need to prepay in premiums for a plan with a $2,000 deductible. The way I look at it is, if I am buying this for the big stuff, I’m not buying it for the piddly little copays and things. I’m buying it if I get in a car accident on 285, if I fall off a ladder and break my arm, if I’m diagnosed with something horrible that’s going to turn into a chronic illness. I’m really concerned about my out of pocket maximum. So that’s the most that I can be responsible for if I have a bad year. When you look at most of these products on the individual market, the out of pocket maximum is generally in the same ballpark. Might be a couple of $100 difference between a plan that my premiums are $600 a month versus a plan where it’s $1,000 a month. And when I’m looking at that direct comparison, I’ve got to think about how am I really intending to use? If I’m treating as a catastrophic product, I’m not really going to get much out of that lower deductible plan design, and I’m going to be guaranteeing that I’m spending more money on my premiums every single month. So in that instance, I’m more than happy to take a little bit more risk on the front end with a higher deductible, knowing that my out of pocket expenses, in a worst case scenario, I’m not going to be that far off. And then the HSA component on some of these products, if you’re young and healthy, if you’ve got nothing on the radar, and you are truly treating this as a catastrophic product, you have no intention of using daily usage benefits. That’s something that I absolutely take advantage of. And I think a lot of our clients in all age ranges should be considering. Because I’m allowed to take money from my checking account and transfer it over to a health savings account, that is a tax deductible contribution, and it’s not a use it or lose it. It just sits in this account waiting for the rainy day, waiting for the big something that pops up, where, for instance, my wife and I had a kid last year, I had to pull her onto my policy so that we could deliver at Northside, the baby factory in the Southeast.
Rico Figliolini 0:20:15
John Czajkowski 0:20:17
In doing so, we had a $6,900 out of pocket maximum, three days in the hospital, epidural the whole thing. She maxed out her coverage. And so with that, I had been preparing financially by maxing out my HSA contributions.
Rico Figliolini 0:20:32
John Czajkowski 0:20:32
When it came the time for me to pay that bill, I swiped my HSA debit card without having to have a garage sale, without having to ask mom and dad for help. I was incentivized by the IRS to financially prepare for future medical expenses. And so with that, yes, the small things are going to sting a little bit more because you’re not getting a copay for it. But for me, I don’t use this stuff, so that’s not a big deal. If I have to pay on a cash basis, a couple of $100 for a specialist visit or something like that, that’s kind of how we approach this with all of our clients. It’s really a needs based evaluation. And tell us, what do you have on the radar? If it’s nothing, are you really going to get your money’s worth by going to a richer, more expensive product?
Rico Figliolini 0:21:16
So let me ask you, on the HSA, for example, that’s mainly used for deductibles or the that’s not used for anything else. I mean, you can’t pay for a health club membership. I mean, it’s not made for that, right?
John Czajkowski 0:21:30
It’s made not it’s really intended for any type of care for your body, whether it be your mouth, whether it be your eyes, whether it be your internals whatever. If I go to my annual physical, that office visit should be complimentary, draw blood, and they ship that off to a third party. Think Quest, Diagnostics Lab Core, something like that. That is by definition, a diagnostic evaluation of my blood. I will have an expense for that. I can absolutely use my HSA dollars for that expense. I can use it for prescriptions. Whether I’m getting my discount through my plan or using GoodRx or another discount program out there. It’s quite literally almost anything revolving around the care of your body.
Rico Figliolini 0:22:18
Okay. And you don’t lose it. It stays with you. It’s a tax deductible. What’s the maximum you can put into an HSA?
John Czajkowski 0:22:27
It shifts every year for 2023. Someone under 55, the maximum you can put in is $3,850. But it is prorated. So for every month that you were on an HSA eligible product, you can put in that calculated whatever dollar amount it was. 38. 50 is the most you can put in over a twelve month period. If you’re over 55, you get an extra $1,000 to dump in. And that’s just for an individual. If I have another person on my coverage on another HSA eligible product in my family, we both get to make a contribution to that HSA. And so when we’re talking about families, especially with young kids, that may be something that you might be interested in. You can dump in almost $9,000 every year, and it ticks up year after year. $5100. That’s a nice little nest egg in the event someone gets into gymnastics or football and they start breaking stuff.
Rico Figliolini 0:23:27
Yeah. And it’s an aggregate amount, so it doesn’t matter who you’re using it for within the family, though. Correct.
John Czajkowski 0:23:34
As long as they’re part of your immediate family, they don’t even have to be covered by your policy.
Rico Figliolini 0:23:39
Oh, really? Okay. Correct. Wow. Okay. I didn’t know that. That’s cool. I have three kids. They’re all in there. One’s 19, the other two are in their 20s. So my oldest, he’s like, this HSA, it’s at another company. We started there four years ago. I still keep getting these statements. There wasn’t that much in there. It was under 1000. He’s like, Do I really need that? I’m like, don’t throw away the money. But does it matter where it’s at? Or should he roll that into a.
John Czajkowski 0:24:14
Different ah, that’s a really interesting question. So most people, they learn about HSAs through their employer group, and if they wander off in a different direction, that HSA is still with whatever system it originated in, but you don’t have to keep it there. For instance, I set mine up through Fidelity, not being paid by them, but found that they were probably the best option for how I was using it. And so that’s simply a quick application online. The money gets transferred within a couple of days, and then it just sits there. One thing that most people might not take advantage of, that they should be allowed to do, is if you set up your HSA with a financial institution that also does investments, technically speaking, I am going to set whatever ceiling I want for my HSA contributions over whatever duration of time for me. I’ve got three people in my family I’m going to set aside three out of pocket maximums, but anything beyond that, I consider fun money. I can still make my contributions and get a tax deduction, but then I can immediately flip over money into my investment portfolio and potentially make money off of my tax deductible contributions if I sell those stocks. But at the same time, I have the potential of making money off of this.
Rico Figliolini 0:25:34
Wow. Okay. I didn’t know that. Yeah. So that means that it’s there. You’ve already taken the tax advantage, and now you’re going to use it in investments versus just letting it sit there as cash. Makes sense.
John Czajkowski 0:25:46
The name of the game is set aside whatever dollar amount you need if things go sideways, anything beyond that, that’s your money to do whatever you want with.
Rico Figliolini 0:25:55
Understood. Wow. Okay. Well, that makes sense. I wish I knew that earlier.
John Czajkowski 0:26:02
Well, I was talking with a guy who was moving into Medicare. Last open enrollment, he was turning 65. He and his wife had been on an HSA style program since they were younger than me, in their mid 30s.
Rico Figliolini 0:26:14
John Czajkowski 0:26:14
He had about 80 grand sitting in this HSA, and I had to break it to him. You had this option. I mean, imagine if in the 90s, he put $10,000 into Microsoft or Apple or IBM. He’d be a billionaire. Now, that’s something that I think most people are never going to take advantage of because it’s not really common knowledge. But hey, if you’re listening, go talk to your financial advisor.
Rico Figliolini 0:26:40
Yeah, I mean, easily enough, it could easily just even go into an index fund. It doesn’t have to go into individual stocks, so it could go into something safer, relative. All right, so now let’s shift a little younger maybe, or to self employed. So if you’re self employed, you have a company, you’re doing maybe a couple of hundred thousand or you’re doing a few million. What’s the difference there as far as looking at if you’re self employed?
Erica Dumpel 0:27:11
Well, it depends whether or not you have employees. If it’s just you, you are in the individual market with or without subsidy, you are in the individual market. But let’s assume you have employees, not 1099. There is a difference, sure. But if you have employees, that opens up the door, depending what you want to do with your health insurance. We have any number of small companies that come to us and say we are accustomed to having, and more than the employees we are trying to attract are accustomed to having dental, vision, short term disability, all these other things. And medical those could be created once you have two people on the plan who are not husband and wife. So that’s a starting point. But what I’ve started seeing in the last couple of years is a little different. A lot of people think I have a company, so I should be providing group medical insurance. And we’re seeing is that may not necessarily be in your company’s best interest, especially if you are a new company. And we’re having a lot of conversations about what can you provide as an employer that an employee cannot get on their own, either as rich a plan or as cost effective a plan. And that really is the dental, vision, life and disability, particularly short term disability. So we’re starting to talk about packaging those things, letting the employees go to the marketplace or get individual insurance. Because what we’re seeing is when an employer puts in a plan and it is available to the employees, they are no longer eligible necessarily to apply for a marketplace subsidy. And as a result of that, you are sometimes shooting people in the foot. So that’s a conversation to really have. When you do have employees, before you pull the trigger, pay a little attention to what they’ve been doing for their health insurance and what they value. And John can go into more detail about all of these family opportunities where plans have to be minimum value and minimum affordability. So there are calculations where one part of the family may qualify for a subsidy, where the other may be better off on a group plan. But there’s some heavy conversation there right now.
Rico Figliolini 0:29:17
Let me ask you this then. For example, I have a. 19 year old, and if I go into Medicare so this is a little different. We’re shifting a little bit. But if I go into Medicare for next year, which I would, he’s not on my insurance anymore. I mean, he has to go for his own insurance. So he would go through, I’m assuming.
John Czajkowski 0:29:37
Extra layer of complication. Is he paying his own taxes?
Rico Figliolini 0:29:41
Yeah, probably not. He’ll probably still be independent for another year or two.
John Czajkowski 0:29:46
If you are still covering this 19 year old on your taxes and getting your tax deduction, well, the government’s going to make sure that your income is counted for when applying for this child’s insurance and subsidy. So it is a little bit tricky and confusing out there, and even to the effect that if we tried to apply this way and saying that you were covered by Medicare, but your 19 year old is coming in, the system may ask for documentation. The system may require that you submit proof of income or something like that. So there’s a lot of barriers that a lot of preparation ahead of submitting an application is going to be very beneficial for you.
Erica Dumpel 0:30:29
Well, Enrico, let me add another thing. If your 19 year old is in college, particularly if they are in the University of Georgia system kenneth, Georgia Tech, Georgia State, whatever, the university programs are so much stronger than they used to be. Imagine a $500 deductible. Imagine a rate of maybe 100 and $5180 a month. It’s a large population of an age group that is only there for a few years because they come and they go through the system. So it’s not a long term commitment on the part of the insurance company. And these kids generally don’t have anything. It’s a very healthy group. So I’m saying to a lot of folks, look at your university system program, whether it’s Georgia or whatever private college a child may be going to in another state, take a real close look at what’s available out there. It’s much better than it used to be.
Rico Figliolini 0:31:20
Oh, wow. I didn’t even know that they provide that type of coverage through the university system. So they could just take it through there.
Erica Dumpel 0:31:27
Yeah. You are required to sign off that you have creditable coverage or you’re signing up over here.
John Czajkowski 0:31:32
As the college systems, I believe they are still contracted with the UnitedHealthcare. So you get access to a very robust network of providers and facilities. It still heavily relies on the school’s clinic system for the minor stuff, but if something big pops up, you get access to a national PBO if nothing’s changed at this point.
Rico Figliolini 0:31:55
Okay, cool. All right. So at this point, what have we not covered, John, that you feel that we should be covering right now in our conversation today?
John Czajkowski 0:32:07
I would say being strategic about this. So Erica touched on this and you had another prodding question. So if I am employed by a company that is offering benefits, I’m stuck. My option as an employee is I either accept the coverage and the employer contribution to help with my premium reduction or I’m on my own. But things have changed at the federal level when it comes to calculating affordability. And nowadays the remaining family members, they do have the option to split off from you, go to the individual market and potentially be found eligible for subsidy. So that’s something that we have been encouraging a lot of our small group clients to consider. We are one of these unicorns out there where we operate in all three markets on a daily basis. So individual under 65 Medicare and groups where it may make sense to have dual option internal to your household and especially if there are different sets of needs between one family member and the rest of them, that may make a lot of sense. Unfortunately, on the individual market, everything is an HMO, which means that you will be staying in the established network with whichever carrier you choose or else you’re on your own. The insurance is not going to step in. But these plans and networks have been getting a lot more accessible over the years and that is primarily because the hospital systems in a lot of metropolitan areas, they’re getting fractured and they’re signing individual contracts with specific insurance carriers. So, for instance, in Atlanta, the big ones are I’m probably going to forget someone. Piedmont, Northside, WellStar, Emery. And if you’re up here in kind of the northern area, maybe Northeast Georgia Medical Center, if I choose a Blue Cross or if I choose an Aetna or a Cigna, I do not get access to all of those hospital systems. And so I do have to be pretty diligent in which program I’m opting into if I maybe have a planned surgery coming up. And I would prefer to be in one hospital system versus another. So that is one layer of complication that a lot of people, they say, oh, I know that company name, that’s a household name, I can probably trust them. And they opt into something without doing the due diligence to figure out, well, are all of my providers in network or am I going to get only a handful of them? And in a lot of cases I have to have pretty stark conversations which providers do you care about the most?
Rico Figliolini 0:34:41
Right, that makes sense. And specialists, they might be someone that has a specialist that they work with over the years. They don’t want to lose that person or medication that they’re taking that I’ve seen. Some health insurance will not cover certain medications, but they’ll cover something within that that works the same way, maybe quote works the same way or the generic versus the labeled or sometimes they won’t even cover certain medications at all that you may be taking.
John Czajkowski 0:35:12
So it’s a bit crazy and sometimes that’s actually to your benefit. So in a lot of cases, when we have clients that do have prescriptions, whether it be on a group medicare or under 65, it might be a gift that your plan doesn’t cover that medication, because that might give you the opportunity to go to the drug manufacturer’s website, apply for their discount program, and take advantage of that. There are all these fine print stipulations where in some cases, if it is covered, you get in, if it’s not covered, you get in. So it’s different between different medications, but they want you taking their drugs. If they’re willing to subsidize to make sure that you are a hard carrying member of their prescription, then that’s their option to make that an option for you, available to you.
Rico Figliolini 0:36:03
Americans are funny that way, I guess. If you were using Crest toothpaste since you were a kid, you’re probably still using Crest tooth toothpaste, right? It’s similar to medication, right? Most people won’t get off because they know that works for them. The efficacy, go figure. But yeah, Americans are funny that way. We do stick with our childhood brands in some ways for the long run. Erica, have we winding down a little bit in this conversation? Have we missed anything that we should touch upon from your point?
Erica Dumpel 0:36:38
There is for the employers, for the employer based plans, there are a couple of things that are not being discussed that I think are important, and the biggest one is compliance. If I have a small company, if I have a big company, there are certain things that I must do for the federal government or they get very upset and start finding me. Penalties, taxes, fines can be debilitating. So if a company is working with a broker, make sure that they have gotten their compliance lined up. There are deadlines on X date. This needs to be filed with thirty five cents per belly button. I mean, stupid stuff, but you miss the deadlines and can be a big problem. We’ve had one company that came to us that had massively bad health history, and they were facing for January of 23, a massive rate increase over what they already couldn’t afford, and came and asked us for another alternative. And we came up with an ICRA, which is an individual coverage health reimbursement account. So imagine you’ve got 60 employees running around, and if I’ve done my job right, Rico, nobody’s happy. It doesn’t have your doctors. It’s too expensive for JJ. It’s richer than you want to be. So what ICRA does is it says, everybody, here’s your dollar amount, go shopping. And it’s a portal similar to healthcare gov. But you want a rich plan, you want a leading plan, you want these doctors, you want that hospital system. So that’s an alternative. It is still new, there are still glitches in the system, but that’s something to keep an eye open for in the future.
Rico Figliolini 0:38:12
Cool, right? What I’d like this point and we’ve arrived towards the end of our time together. I want people to know where they can. So for example, you charge a fee if someone wants to come to you to have you all handle it right, for Medicare, let’s say. Is that tax deductible by any chance?
Erica Dumpel 0:38:33
Rico Figliolini 0:38:35
I sort of knew that aspect. I thought it is. All right, so if someone wants to come to you to get your assistance, whether they’re a company or an individual, how would they find information on your wall?
Erica Dumpel 0:38:48
The website is cdainc.net. Our phone number is 770-449-7369. And if you want to reach any of us, the emails are simple, it’s our first name. In my case, Erica, in John’s case, John@cdainc.net.
John Czajkowski 0:39:08
And if anyone we’re local, you can find us. We’re not some unnamed or mask over who is actually helping you. It is us. We are in Peachtree Corners. We are in Tech Park. Come knock on our door if you really want to get our attention.
Rico Figliolini 0:39:27
Yes. The good part about John and Eric is I see them at Southwest Gwinnett chamber. They’ve been at the PDC coffee meets Wednesday morning in downtown Norcross. So they’re very involved in the community. They’re out there talking about this, giving free advice out there as well at these speaking engagements that they do so do reach out to them. They are Peachtree Corners based and members of the Southwest Corners Chamber. So cool. Well, thank you guys. I appreciate you spending some time this afternoon with me talking about Medicare and insurance and open enrollment and all that. Before we leave, though, hang with me for a minute. I just want to say thank you to two of our sponsors, Clearwave Fiber, a company that does business internet and residential internet, but they have over a thousand businesses in Peachtree Corners. They too are local to a degree and they have reps here, so they’re not your cable company guy. So if you need to find out a little bit more about how they do their services for your business, check them out. Clearwave fiber and also EV Remodeling Inc. They do design to build renovation work on your home indoors and out. Eli is the owner of the company, lives here in Peachtree Corners. Great family, they do good work, so check them out. Also EVremodelinginc.com. So thanks again, Erica, John, appreciate you being with me.
Erica Dumpel 0:40:50
John Czajkowski 0:40:51
Thank you very much, Rico.
Rico Figliolini 0:40:53
Botanical Sciences and Gary Long Bringing Medicinal Cannabis to Georgia
What is medical cannabis? What conditions and diseases qualify for it? What’s the difference between CBD Oil and Low THC Oil? How can you get a medicinal cannabis card?
On this episode of Peachtree Corners Life, Rico Figliolini sits down with Gary Long, CEO of Botanical Sciences. Together they discuss the intricacies of the regulated medical cannabis market in Georgia. This insightful conversation provides valuable insights into the importance of regulation, the challenges faced by the industry, and the distinction between CBD oil and low THC oil. Listeners will gain a deeper understanding of how regulation ensures patient safety and product quality, and Georgia’s thoughtful approach to medical cannabis serves as a model for other states.
Don’t miss out on this informative and thought-provoking episode!
[00:00:00] – Introduction and Podcast Sponsors
[00:01:30] – Introduction of Gary Long and Botanical Sciences
[00:03:14] – History and Regulations of Medicinal Marijuana in Georgia
[00:06:42] – Discussion on Independent Pharmacies Dispensing Medicinal Cannabis
[00:08:45] – Comparison Between CBD Oil and Low THC Oil
[00:10:53] – Overview of Botanical Sciences Facility and Products
[00:13:51] – Legality and Amount of Low THC Oil a Person Can Possess
[00:15:59] – Various Forms of Low THC Oil and Their Usage
[00:19:08] – Challenges in Georgia: Awareness, Access, and Federal Laws
[00:22:57] – Marijuana Rescheduling and Safer Banking Act
[00:26:15] – Getting a Medicinal Cannabis Card and Renewal
[00:28:27] – Medical Insurance Coverage and Future Predictions**
[00:34:46] – Conclusion
Rico Figliolini 0:00:00
This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life. Before we get into our show, I just want to say thank you to our podcast sponsors. EV remodeling Inc. is one of our sponsors. Eli, who owns that company, it’s a huge company that does a lot of design to build renovation work on homes. Lives here in Peachtree Corners, has a great family. You can check them out. They’ve been a great supporter of ours. EVremodelinginc.com is where you can find out more information as well. Clearwave Fiber has been a supporter of ours, and they’ve worked here in Peachtree Corners providing Internet services for 1000 businesses here in the city. You’re going to want to check them out. They’re not your typical cable company and Internet provider. They are here locally and they’re committed to this community. So check them out. Clearwave Fiber. Now to get to our guest today, CEO of Botanical Sciences, Gary Long has joined us. Hey, Gary.
Gary Long 0:01:29
How you doing, Rico?
Rico Figliolini 0:01:30
Good. You know, it’s interesting. A friend of mine that owns Peachtree Pharmacy that I was talking to the other day about some stuff, and she knows we’re going to eventually be, hopefully a dispensary for medicinal use of marijuana. And because it’s legal in the state for low dose THC to be sold here in the state for medical purposes on an approved list. And she know you should speak to Gary Long. Gary Long is the CEO of that company. And by the way, he is connected to Peachtree Corners, too, in a different way. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, Gary, before we get into the company?
Gary Long 0:02:07
I’ll do, and thank you for that. Yes. Actually grew up in Peachtree Corners, in Spalding Corners on Spalding Drive. Started living there, I think when I was about eight, so it was 1977, and lived there till I went to college. I went to Auburn University and then returned for a little bit prior to kind of establishing my own career and life in the Alpharetta area. So spent quite a bit of time there. I went to Norcross High School. I went to East Elementary School. So quite a bit of connection to the community, for sure.
Rico Figliolini 0:02:37
And this was the old Norcross High School?
Gary Long 0:02:40
Yes. The old Norcross High School in beaver ruin.
Rico Figliolini 0:02:42
Yes. That was still around when I moved here in 95, I think, before they built the new school. But now you’re CEO of one of two companies in the state of Georgia, if I’m right, that do medicinal marijuana, Botanical sciences, and which is founded by a physician. It’s actually the only physician founded company here. And just so then people know the low THC oil is not the active ingredient of marijuana, you’re not going to be able to get high on this, correct?
Gary Long 0:03:13
No, actually, you can. But it’s designed the way that the state kind of initiated the policy was having a lower THC content in the oil as a percentage of volume should not be used necessarily for the purposes of getting high. But there are benefits to patients depending upon what their treatment or their symptoms are.
Rico Figliolini 0:03:34
Okay, so educate us a little bit about the product itself then, and where you are and what’s licensed and what list of not the entire list, but who can use this.
Gary Long 0:03:43
Great. Yeah. It makes sense for me to just kind of take people through a little bit of a history lesson about how we got here as a state. In 2015, the state passed Haley’s Hope Act. So it’s been eight plus years now that we’ve actually had a law in place in the state of Georgia where you’ve been able to possess low THC oil for the benefit of these medicinal conditions. Only in, I think, in 2020, is when the state started the process to enable companies like ours to apply for and through an RFP process to be awarded a contract to be a supplier, a regulated supplier of these products. We were very, very fortunate and pleased the fact that of the 69 companies that were participating in the state’s process, we were the highest ranked company. And so as a result of that, on the tail end of their process, in 2021, we were selected as the number one company, and we received what’s called a Class One license. And that license enables us to not only produce the product, but to process it into its usable form, to distribute it, and then to dispense it. What makes the state unique is not only are we dispensing it through our own dispensaries that we own, and there’s five in the state right now, but also we’re the only state in the country where independent pharmacies are allowed to dispense medicinal cannabis. And our governor, Governor Kemp, just signed off on those rules enabling independent pharmacies to actually dispense the product, which we love being a physician founded company because everything we do puts the patient at the center of this clinical journey. And we know that pharmacists play a very important role in that process. Right. So not only do you get advice from your physician, you also get advice from your pharmacist oftentimes when you’re being prescribed a medication. And so we see this as being an incredible opportunity for the patients of the state. And as you mentioned a moment ago, there’s right now about 18 qualifying conditions, and the things that qualify tend to be related to pain, cancer, diagnosis, multiple sclerosis, so a lot of different neuromuscular diseases, PTSD and anxiety disorders like that, sickle cell anemia. The list is on our website and it’s also available online through the state’s own website.
Rico Figliolini 0:05:59
Gary Long 0:06:00
Quite a few conditions. And we anticipate that that list is going to expand.
Rico Figliolini 0:06:04
Yeah, the list, I mean, just give a few more. It’s Alzheimer’s disease, age, intractable pain, it goes into autism, certain spectrums of it, above 18 turret syndrome, sickle cell anemia, Parkinson’s, mitochondrial Crohn’s disease. So quite a few, most of the commonality of that is though severe or end stage hospice care as well in that area. And so no doubt it will probably expand, I would imagine.
Gary Long 0:06:33
Yeah, there’s already been discussion, I was going to say there’s already been some discussion with the state where they are planning on introducing other conditions to the.
Rico Figliolini 0:06:41
Registry, which makes sense. I mean, government moves slow, god knows we know this. That’s why it took eight years. And then you have to implement and that’s what they did right in 2020 is the implementation part. There is a local pharmacy here in Peachtree Corners, life Peach Free Pharmacy, that is going to be applying to be one of the dispensaries for your company. And they’re a compounding pharmacy as well. So is that a common thing for the independent pharmacy?
Gary Long 0:07:09
Yes, there’s quite a few just independently owned and operated pharmacies, and some of them do compounding and some of them do not. But that is exactly the type of company that’s allowed to dispense the product per the state. I was going to say one more thing. They’re governed by the Georgia Board of Pharmacy under the law, which is this Haley’s Hope Act.
Rico Figliolini 0:07:30
And that process of applying for that is happening, I think in October, you said. Or November.
Gary Long 0:07:36
That’s correct. In October. So any independent pharmacy that is interested is allowed to apply through the Georgia Board of Pharmacy.
Rico Figliolini 0:07:42
Okay, so eventually, maybe by the new year, I don’t know how long an.
Gary Long 0:07:45
Application process actually might actually be in October, because in conversations with the governing body, which is the Georgia Board of Pharmacy and the Georgia Department, of Drugs and Narcotics, who is the law enforcement agency that assists the Georgia Board of Pharmacy. They said that they will turn around the application process within a couple of weeks.
Rico Figliolini 0:08:05
Gary Long 0:08:05
So anticipating seeing know our products in the independent pharmacies in October.
Rico Figliolini 0:08:11
Wow, okay, that’s that’s tremendously fast for state government to be working. So check that out. Peachtree Pharmacy is where you should probably go in the city of Peachtree Corners. The other thing is, I don’t use it. I know I have a lot of people, a lot of friends that use CBD oil. CBD stores have popped up. Not just stores, but anyone that has a store can sell CBD oil. So give us a little understanding, Gary. What’s the difference and yeah, tell us what the difference on that is.
Gary Long 0:08:42
Great question and I’m sure there’s a ton of confusion because everybody I talk to kind of thinks one is the same as the other and they’re really two different things. The industry of CBD oils and those types of things, they have a lot of medicinal uses. Right? There was a bill that was introduced by the federal government in 2018 called the Farm Bill. And the Farm Bill enabled companies to farm hemp which has been around for thousands of years. And hemp is a sister plant to the marijuana plant. They’re virtually identical in many ways. But the law says, I’m sorry, the Farm Bill says that you can only derive 0.3% THC from a hemp plant. And so that’s a problem. But it’s also a loophole. So what companies have done is they’ve taken that little loophole and now they’ve built a whole industry around this. And on its own that’s not a problem. The issue is, and I think your listeners have probably seen it with their own eyes, is it’s proliferated all over the place, it’s in convenience stores, it’s in these pop up dispensaries. And what’s happening is there’s absolutely no regulation whatsoever on the quality, the purity, the labeling of those products. And what’s happening, unfortunately, in our state, Rico, is many of those products contain heavy metals. They contain solvents, they contain microbials. They’re being shipped in from other states who have already outlawed them. So we’ve become a dumping ground as a state and that’s a very bad thing for the patients. Right. And so while there are still some legitimate companies out there who are selling products, it’s kind of hard to find them in this crazy environment that’s been created. So our store and our products are the complete antithesis of that. Right. We are 100% governed by the state. Everything is laboratory tested organic. No pesticides, no solvents, no microbials. So the products that they’re getting from us not only will they know are pure and safe, but they’re Georgia grown on top of it. So we are a Georgia based company. We manufacture everything in the state of Georgia and so people can take comfort in that.
Rico Figliolini 0:10:49
You have 460 acres in Glenville, Georgia.
Gary Long 0:10:52
Rico Figliolini 0:10:53
Your facility is like 130,030, 3000 sqft out there.
Gary Long 0:10:59
It’s a state of the art facility. We built it from the ground up to support the needs of the state. And so as more and more patients get added to the registry through having conversations with their doctor, we’re going to be able to service as many patients as the state presents with.
Rico Figliolini 0:11:15
Let me ask you on the CBD oil mean I’ve everywhere. I mean you could be at a gas station. See, I’m working with an Italian company doing an introduction of supplemental vitamins here in the states and they certify themselves. Their vitamins is the second certification here when it arrives in the mean vitamins are something we all ingest. And God knows, if you go to Whole Foods, there’s a whole aisle. You don’t even know which stuff to take. But it’s regulated to some degree. The labels regulated, things regulated on that. You’re right. CBD. Oil is like the wild west. There’s nothing there. Yeah. And you don’t even know. There’s no chain of custody.
Rico Figliolini 0:11:59
You don’t know what you’re ingesting. You’re right. Like heavy metals, all that stuff, the unnatural, maybe the way it was even produced.
Gary Long 0:12:07
Rico Figliolini 0:12:08
I mean, it’s amazing that people will take that and not understand where it’s come from and think it’s okay.
Gary Long 0:12:14
You’re right. It’s very concerning that in the 21st century, in our sophisticated society, with the Federal Drug Administration and all of the government regulation oversight, that they would allow this to occur. Just so your listeners know, 19 states have outlawed or regulated these synthetically modified hemp derived delta eight, delta nine, delta ten, THCA products that are all coming from hemp. Now, I’m not trying to throw a wet blanket on the entire industry. Like I said, there are some quality companies who sell those products. But the problem is that there is no control and regulation over it federally and nothing in our state. And so it’s kind of like take them at your own risk, I guess.
Rico Figliolini 0:12:59
Yeah. Interesting, the fact that you can put that disinfused products, I think, even with yes. And that’s not with drinks, foods.
Gary Long 0:13:10
No. Our products are they’re clinically formulated. We actually provide them in the form of tinctures, which are sublingual drops, capsules, topicals like creams and lotions. We’ll be introducing some lozenges, some other types of mix ins so that people have a variety of ways to actually get the benefits from the product.
Rico Figliolini 0:13:31
Gary Long 0:13:32
And everything we do, by the way, is controlled by the state. So we have to go to the state and have a conversation about, number one, the type of way in which we want to sell a product. Everything we do is tracked and measured by the state. So it’s very regulated and that’s a good thing for the patients of the state, for sure.
Rico Figliolini 0:13:51
Anyone doing this should be comfortable and understand that there is safety measures in place and that anyone that sells this is all following the same guidelines. Whereas, like I said, the CBD oil, there are good companies out there, but because it’s the Wild West, there’s bad players as well.
Gary Long 0:14:08
There’s another thing, too that we haven’t really touched on in addition, is there are people, and this is the way it’s been for years, up until recently, that have needed or wanted the benefits from medicinal cannabis and have actually been buying that product on the illicit market. Right. So they’ve been finding a drug dealer and buying those products from them without knowing what’s in it. And I know there’s a lot of growing concern in the community of people that have been doing that that a lot of these products are laced with fentanyl and everybody knows the scourge of fentanyl in our country. So I think, again, this is going to push people to a regulated, controlled market in a good way. Right. So if you need these products and want these products for whatever the medicinal benefit is that you are requiring, you can take comfort in knowing that we’re going to be providing and selling through these independent pharmacies and our own dispensaries are highest purest quality products available.
Rico Figliolini 0:15:01
So then people understand it’s product that because it’s regulated like that. Also that people can legally purchase only up to 20 fluid ounces of the cannabis. Actually, it’s not just purchase, if I remember correctly, it’s keeping up to 20 fluid ounces at any given time.
Gary Long 0:15:21
That’s right. The law states specifically that an individual is allowed to possess up to 20 fluid ounces of this low THC oil at any one point in time. That is a law that was created back in 2015. At that time, they just didn’t want to put mothers of children who were needing these products to be put in a very bad legal situation. So 20 fluid ounces is a pretty big amount of this product. As you imagine, the average individual will consume ten milligrams, five to ten milligrams at a time. So 20 fluid ounces is a massive amount of product. So I don’t think there’s going to be any issues with folks feeling like they’re going to be in a bad situation with law enforcement. Imagine very few people, if any, are going to actually possess 20 fluid ounces.
Rico Figliolini 0:16:07
At any point in time because that 20 fluid ounces would normally last.
Gary Long 0:16:14
A long, long time. It really depends on the treatment protocol of how much they’re going to be needing to take. Some of these conditions that you and I referenced earlier, the neuromuscular ones especially, require a very high concentration of the product in order to reduce the symptoms, like spasticity. Actually, there’s studies out there, many studies out there where it talks about it actually retards the growth or the progression of some of these diseases. It’s amazing. And that’s really what I’m hopeful for, for our country and our state, is that we will bring forward a lot of the education to the patients of the community because there is a lot of information out there. But now that this is becoming more commonplace right. I think everybody’s aware that it exists and it’s out there is that now there’ll be more studies, double blind studies that can prove the efficacy of some of these therapies.
Rico Figliolini 0:17:07
Okay, true. I mean, unfortunately, when it was illegal, no one cared to do that.
Gary Long 0:17:13
Nobody cared to do.
Rico Figliolini 0:17:14
Right. So, okay, so people can buy this oil, TSC oil you in the state of Georgia at least can’t be inhaled or vaped smoked. Those are the things that are banned from that’s.
Gary Long 0:17:28
Rico Figliolini 0:17:29
But so the company sells, company sells products in four or three capacities, right. Tincture, if I remember correctly, is one. Explain to me how that’s used, for.
Gary Long 0:17:41
Example, so in healthcare, tinctures are used frequently for the ingestion of certain types of medicines. Essentially, it’s like an eyedropper that has a measured amount on the vial itself, where a patient would take a certain amount of the oil measure to a certain place and apply it under your tongue. That’s what sublingual means. And there’s an entry point under your tongue where it goes directly into your bloodstream. So you get a very quick effect where it doesn’t have to go through your digestive system when you take a pill or some other type of consumed product. It has to go through your digestive system and the wall of your stomach and sometimes through your intestines before you get the impact. So this is a very effective way of getting the product into the bloodstream and to actually start to get the benefit. But there are folks who want to consume a pill. That’s why we sell capsules. And then the lotions and creams, the topicals, we call them, are really for external use, right. You put it on your arm or your shoulder and similar to how CBD products are used in that same way, these have a similar type of effect. I would argue a better effect because bringing the molecules of THC from medical cannabis and CBD together creates something called the Entourage effect, and it actually enhances the ability for both compounds to have a positive impact on your body. If you take one or the other, you still get some benefit, but combined, it’s a better benefit for whatever you’re trying to solve for.
Rico Figliolini 0:19:08
What challenges are you finding right now as a company in state of Georgia, getting this product?
Gary Long 0:19:15
That is a loaded question. There is a ton of challenges. The good news is our state is helping us try to address them. I would say the number one challenge, Rico, is awareness. We’ve only been authorized to kind of start manufacturing and selling products since the beginning of this year, and there’s not been a great deal of information coming from the state about the availability of these products. It’s only been left up to us and another company to do our own marketing and communications and those types of things. So I think that is going to change in the near future, especially when independent pharmacies are going to be authorized to dispense these products. Right. By default, there’s several hundred independent pharmacies in our state, so it’s going to literally go from very little access to statewide access overnight. And so you’ll be seeing a lot more information. So access and information are two very important things that have been challenges. The other challenges really relate to a lot of what’s going on at the federal level. I mean, if you’re paying attention or you’re reading newspapers right now, there’s 40 of our 50 states have either an adult recreational use legalization. I think 24 of them are actually recreational legal, and the remainder, 16, are like us, medicinally focused. So there’s only ten states that are left who don’t have these laws. And because we still live with antiquated federal laws, in my opinion, which we are not allowed to operate like a normal business would, where you can write off certain things on taxes and those types of things. There’s lots of prohibitions federally still. But the good news is, and there was some recent news in the last couple of weeks, rico, where the Department of Health and Human Services, which is the largest part of the federal government, issued a statement and a petition to the DEA to reschedule marijuana to go from a schedule one to a schedule three. And so that vote is going to happen this year. So that’s a big change. If that passes, that’s going to change the entire landscape of the country.
Rico Figliolini 0:21:18
So what does that do, changing it to schedule three? What’s the practicality of that?
Gary Long 0:21:23
Yeah, great. That’s a great follow on today. I think your listeners would be surprised if they don’t know this, that marijuana, according to the federal government and the DEA, is equivalent to heroin, right? Yeah, it’s equivalent to fentanyl. So these incredibly potent drugs that if you take just a little too much, will kill you. So I think that’s what I mean when I say antiquated. Those were ideas from the past. And so there is a lot of movement at the federal level now to actually change that and make it right. And in addition to the rescheduling is what they’re calling it’s, a rescheduling, going from a schedule one to a schedule three. There’s also something called the Safer Banking Act, which would allow companies like ourselves and other companies who operate in this industry around the country to have access to the normal banking system because it is considered to be like a prohibition federally. I can’t put my money into a bank like a normal business today.
Rico Figliolini 0:22:22
But how do you do that? How do you operate?
Gary Long 0:22:25
It is incredibly difficult to try to navigate around this. There are ways to make it happen. We’re not the only company who has to do this. There are hundreds of companies in our country, hundreds, if not thousands, who are doing the same thing we’re doing. But the good news is, if it’s legal in your state, then it all is fine. But those are some major challenges for not just ourselves, but every other state in our country. And if you travel anywhere, you know that this is kind of like the trains left the station. This is used everywhere else in Georgia and a few other states in the south and the Midwest are the last ones to go.
Rico Figliolini 0:22:57
Yeah, and we were talking about before also about because there’s no national standards like an FDA regulation, that every state pretty much has some of their own rules. So what you do here, you might not be able to sell in another right. Even if you’re approved in another state, you might have to set up a whole separate setup for that.
Gary Long 0:23:20
You got it. That is exactly is our authorization is just for the state of Georgia, and no other company that operates in another state is allowed to sell their products in the state of Georgia either. So eventually this may change where there will be interstate commerce and this is no longer a federal issue. But again, I’m not going to hold my breath that the federal government is going to do anything very quickly, but we’re going to operate the business for the benefit of the citizens of the state of Georgia and focus on that. And if these other things change, so be it. But we’re just excited about the opportunity in front of ourselves and obviously the patients of the state that have been seeking this.
Rico Figliolini 0:23:58
So people that are listening to this may be thinking, okay, I have one of those 18 diseases or ailments, and I want to be able to get this. This is not really a script from a physician.
Gary Long 0:24:13
You are correct, it is not a prescription. The way that it works, and it’s actually pretty simple, is you go see your physician or a telemedicine provider even there are telemedicine companies that do nothing but focus on this. But you can go to your family physician, your internist, whomever, and if you have one of these conditions or a symptom that relates to one of these conditions, you can then get them to provide what they call a recommendation to get your medicinal cannabis card. So the physician themselves needs to be linked to the state’s department of public Health, and essentially they file an application on your behalf through the Department of Public Health that says that Rico is authorized and is recommended to receive medicinal cannabis card. That card is then processed by the central department of Public Health, and then it will go to the Gwinnett County Department of Public Health for you to pick up in about ten to 14 days.
Rico Figliolini 0:25:06
Gary Long 0:25:07
They are not mailing these cards. They are not mailing these cards. It is something that we’re working with the department of Public Health on. It’s kind of mind boggling that they don’t mail it, like your voter registration card or your driver’s license, but yep. We’re just trying to work through the bureaucracy a little bit, but I think there’s receptivity to actually mailing them eventually. But today you would have to go pick it up. One of the Department of Health locations in Gwinnett County. And then once you have that card, you are authorized to purchase the product either at one of our dispensaries or at the dispensary of your independent pharmacy.
Rico Figliolini 0:25:41
So once you have that card, there’s no renewal to that card.
Gary Long 0:25:45
That card is it every two years.
Rico Figliolini 0:25:47
Every two years. Okay. And get recertified or reapply, the reapplication.
Gary Long 0:25:55
Or I guess and the cards are $25, so there’s a $25 fee that goes to the Department of Health to get the card. And the card looks very much like a driver’s license. It’s got your picture on it, got some just basic information about you as the individual on it. And that’s the card you have to present when you go to get the product, either at a pharmacy or one of our dispensaries.
Rico Figliolini 0:26:15
So I guess that begs me to ask, do you have to go in person to get that card set up like the DMV to get a great question.
Gary Long 0:26:21
Yes, you can submit a photo.
Rico Figliolini 0:26:24
Gary Long 0:26:25
I thought you were going a different direction with the card itself. And that is if you’re a caregiver of a patient, you can also get a card. So there are some people, as you know, that are too ill or debilitated and can’t go do all of this on their own. So caregivers can get a card on behalf of a patient. So if you have an elderly parent or if you’ve got a child who has severe disease, one of these qualifying conditions, the mother or the father can get a card on behalf of their child as an example.
Rico Figliolini 0:26:55
So a custodian can get or guardian rather, can get a or parent can get something for their child. If I’m a caregiver to my cousin or my mother, I would have power of attorney, or they would accept me as accepted caregiver.
Gary Long 0:27:11
Yeah, and I don’t think it goes quite as far as power of attorney, but in this situation, if you’re a primary caregiver, you are authorized to actually get a card to purchase product on behalf of a patient, but both individuals will have to file essentially to get authorization from the state.
Rico Figliolini 0:27:28
Okay, so that would like I’m just thinking broadly now. So there’s retirement places, assisted places, because they’re caregivers in a broader way. Are they allowed to do that for.
Gary Long 0:27:42
Their I really don’t know the answer to that question. If a company who’s operating on behalf of a patient is authorized to do that, I’ll have to get back to you with the specific answer on that because that hasn’t come up. But I can see that coming up.
Rico Figliolini 0:27:55
Yeah, I could see that coming up also because you have assisted living places with maybe 100, 200 people in it, and they’re caregivers. They have medical people on staff sometimes, depending on what it is. I could see that happening right now. There’s, I think about 30,000 registered patients correct last month or two that grew from 13,000 back in 2015. And some of the stats are correct or not. I don’t know. There’s 500 applicants that I’ll backlog right now. I’m sure that’s going to get faster as things go.
Gary Long 0:28:27
Yeah, it already has. The Department of Health has worked out some of the bugs of their process, and so most people. Are getting their cards within one to two weeks now, which is a great improvement. Yeah, it’s fast. And what’s also exciting, too, is the word is getting out. The numbers of people that are joining the registry is growing pretty rapidly. I personally have made visits this week to several departments of health around the city, around Atlanta, and they’re seeing a lot of people coming in to get their cards. And so we’re actually engaging with them to make sure these folks have a lot of educational information going into this process, because there’s a big gap, as you know, of information out there. There’s a lot of misinformation about what this is being used for, the benefits and all that kind of thing. So we’re trying to serve as that resource for patients of the state of Georgia. There’s a ton of information on our email@example.com. I would ask if anybody has any know, either contact me directly or go to our website and submit a question. We’ll be happy to provide any answers we can to help folks.
Rico Figliolini 0:29:34
I guess one other question maybe would be as well. Lots of things are covered by medical insurance. Is this also covered by medical insurance?
Gary Long 0:29:43
It is not, and that is merely because of the federal stance on marijuana. Okay, so if these things start to change, like I mentioned earlier, if it gets rescheduled, if banking regulation gets changed, and it gets changed at a federal level, it’s possible in the future that there will be some reimbursement from an insurance carrier. I would see this first going. Having some reimbursement coming from the federal government, like through a Medicare Medicaid type of a role before a commercial payer would probably do it. But the good news is the products themselves are not that expensive in the scheme of things, especially in comparison to a lot of prescription drugs out there that people are taking. And they have a lot safer profile in terms of you compare taking medicinal cannabis to relieve pain versus an opioid as an example. Not only is it non addictive medicinal cannabis, it’s extremely inexpensive compared to those prescription medicines, which obviously are very addictive and actually alter the chemistry of your brain in addition to benzos and those types of things that people take for PTSD and other anxiety related conditions. So there’s a whole host of benefits and roughly rico anything from around $25 to around $100, depending upon what form factor they’re going to take. That usually gets you a 30 day supply.
Rico Figliolini 0:31:08
That’s not bad at all.
Gary Long 0:31:09
Yeah, it’s not bad at all.
Rico Figliolini 0:31:13
I know medications that people take for blood pressure, for other things, you have to make sure you get your liver attack blood, test, blood panels to make sure that the side effects of those medicines can be hurt or harmful, sometimes more harmful than the benefit.
Gary Long 0:31:30
Rico Figliolini 0:31:33
It’s a whole different world out there. So things are tainting. Where do you expect to be in about five years with us. Where do you expect to be in five years with us?
Gary Long 0:31:43
Maybe I’d play a lottery ticket if I knew. I would say based on the movement that’s happened in our country right over the last few years, and you have conservative states, relatively conservative states like Georgia now adopting it, I would say you’re going to see probably the more conservative states in the south stay medicinal cannabis and maybe not go to adult use just yet. There’s an apprehension to go into being able to provide smokable products and just have everybody walking around smoking marijuana. Because if you go to some cities and states, there’s a lot of that. And so I think our state will go slow but methodical to opening this up to a broader audience of people, especially as we start to see benefits being documented and those types of things. I do believe federally there will be some changes in the next twelve to 24 months that will make this actually, maybe it’ll be federally legal in a few years. And if that changes, then everything I just said will go out the window. And then all of a sudden it’ll be like any other industry in our country where sell products doesn’t matter what state you’re in right now. There’s still so much variability between states on all of these things that again, I’m not going to hold my breath. There’s going to be some fundamental change, but if there is, it’ll rapidly change.
Rico Figliolini 0:33:08
It’s interesting what you said before about cities with recreational marijuana. My wife was up in New York a few months ago and she was staying at a midtown hotel and she could smell the marijuana from, I think the 7th floor, practically, because when she went out, it was like she said, everyone was fine. You cannot walk a block without smelling the depth of it because it’s legal up there and everyone was doing it, which when it’s legal, that’s what you do, I guess. Yeah.
Gary Long 0:33:37
Again, I would say our state has learned the lessons of watching other states go through this process, right. In a couple of ways that are pretty interesting. One is a lot of other states will issue hundreds of licenses, people to grow product, for people to dispense product, hundreds of licenses, and it creates an oversupply of the product and then it gets proliferated everywhere. Right. So our state has taken a much more thoughtful approach, I would say. There’s two companies right now that have the ability to sell and dispense, us being one of them. And there’s four more that may come online in a year, within a year, but that’s it. And those companies are the only companies allowed to grow the product, produce products with the manufactured product, and then to dispense them. And I think that’s a smart thing. We may get frustrated at times because it goes slow, but I would much rather go slow and get it right than just kind of, like, have it be a free for all.
Rico Figliolini 0:34:35
Yeah, no, I agree with you. I mean, control makes sense and regulation makes sense. We have to do that. This is great. I learned quite a bit.
Gary Long 0:34:45
Glad to hear that.
Rico Figliolini 0:34:46
Yeah. And I think our listeners know more now because of listening to you and certainly if they want to find out more information about your company, its products, the tinctures, the capsules, the topicals and how to get a card and what qualifies, your website is very informative. I was just looking at it before and people go to Botanicalsciences.com and you can find that and even follow you on I’m assuming you’re on social media.
Gary Long 0:35:12
Yes, I am. Yeah, the company is and I am. So, yes, we’re on all social Instagram.
Rico Figliolini 0:35:21
And so if they want to get in touch with you, they can just go to contact page or just reach out to you. And again, I want to let people know here Peachtree Corners, that Peachtree Pharmacy is actually going to also be a dispensary once they apply, if they’re accepted, and maybe in October they may have your products already.
Gary Long 0:35:40
We’re very excited about the pharmacy getting in Peachtree Corners, and again, I’m being a homeboy from Peachtree Corners. I’m super excited for the community. So really looking forward to it.
Rico Figliolini 0:35:52
I want to thank you for being with us. Gary, stay with me for a second as we sign off, but thank you.
Gary Long 0:35:57
You’re welcome. Thank you.
Rico Figliolini 0:35:58
Everyone else, I appreciate you being with us. You want to learn more. There’ll be notes, show notes, links to the website and other information that you may need, link to where to get the card. But of course, if you go to Botanicalsciences.com, they have all that there as well. But I’ll have it in the show notes. Feel free to check that. And if you have comments or questions, reach out to Gary, put your comments in any of the places that this will appear, which will be Facebook and YouTube or email me and I’ll get that information out to you as well. But thank you for being with us.
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