Peake files medical marijuana bill

mlee@macon.comJanuary 28, 2014 

ATLANTA -- Georgia is getting serious about medical marijuana with the filing of a bill Tuesday by state Rep. Allen Peake.

The eight-page document he placed in the state House’s inbox would open the way for doctors at academic research centers to recommend an oil derived from cannabis to treat acute epilepsy.

“I feel very comfortable we will have a hearing, maybe several hearings,” said Peake, R-Macon, just after filing what’s now House Bill 885.

It would work by amending an old law that allows medical marijuana research for glaucoma and cancer. (It also cuts the word “marijuana” throughout and replaces it with “cannabis.”)

The bill would allow what it calls cannabis extracts and compounds, including but not limited to “cannabidiol,” or CBD, a non-hallucinogenic chemical derived from marijuana that’s already in use in some states.

“The evidence that’s there relating to seizure disorders looks like when it is added on, it sometimes has very dramatic results,” said state Rep. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, Peake’s first co-sponsor and the only physician in the House.

The typical patient envisioned in the bill is a person, probably a child, who has a so-far intractable seizure disorder, suffering sometimes more than 100 seizures a day, and who has tried lots of other medications.

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta sees hundreds of such young people, said spokeswoman Patty Gregory.

“At present, there has not been enough evidence-based research around the use of CBD studying its safety and tolerability in children with seizure disorders, and thus should not be used generally,” Gregory said. “However, we are in support of legislation that would allow clinical research by academic institutions.”

Peake reported some 85 representatives had signed the bill as of Tuesday.

House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire, said he could see it getting a vote on the House floor, though he declined to predict how his colleagues would vote.

“The door is always open to any innovations that alleviate the suffering of Georgians,” said O’Neal. But “obviously there’s a stigma attached to marijuana” that the bill will encounter.

“Everybody around here will have to be educated to what the limitations are” in the bill and precisely what it calls for, he said.

Peake’s plan directs the Georgia Composite Medical Board, via a rebooted Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Program, to vet applications from academic medical centers that could then undertake research.

The marijuana would come from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a federal agency that, among other things, is a legal source for research cannabis. The Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency would be in charge of rules around storing and distributing research cannabis.

And written into the bill is a denunciation of recreational marijuana: “This legislation’s purpose is the compassionate potentially life-saving use of medical cannabis and is not intended to sanction, encourage, or otherwise be construed as a movement toward the legalization of recreational cannabis.”

Peake expects the bill to be assigned to the Health and Human Services Committee for hearings. The chair of that committee, state Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, declined comment.

The bill is named the “Haleigh’s Hope” Act, for Haleigh Cox, a Monroe County 4-year-old who suffers from severe seizures, and whose parents are among several who are lobbying to try medical marijuana for their children.

To see a copy of the measure, go to www.goo.gl/cyjv2U.

This year’s legislative session is scheduled to end sometime in March.

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