Obstacles ahead for Ga. medical marijuana bill

mlee@macon.comFebruary 3, 2014 

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, wants to legalize Georgia access to a liquid medicine derived from cannabis that treats severe epilepsy. He brought a bottle of vanilla extract, without a label, to show his state Capitol colleagues that he’s not talking about smoking dope, but instead is talking about a liquid medicine that comes in a similar small bottle.

ATLANTA -- If medical marijuana is going to win legalization in Georgia, there are still hurdles to clear, state Rep. Allen Peake said Monday, fresh from a trip to Colorado.

Among them: There’s a waiting list for a key extract, and for now importing cannabis compounds to Georgia is not possible.

Peake, R-Macon, made the observations after visiting Georgia families who have taken severely ill children to Colorado for medical marijuana, as well as the facility where an anti-seizure medicine called Charlotte’s Web is made.

“Access and supply will be our next obstacles” if House Bill 885 passes, Peake said. That bill, which he filed last week, would allow academic medical research centers to undertake research involving liquid cannabis compounds and epilepsy.

The state House Health and Human Services Committee tentatively has scheduled expert testimony on the bill for Feb. 10.

Charlotte’s Web is named for Charlotte Figi, the first child to prove, in the plant growers’ eyes, that an extract from their special high-cannabidiol plant could relieve severe seizure disorders.

But there’s a waiting list 206 deep just in the United States, according to the Realm of Caring, a Colorado Springs, Co., nonprofit that distributes the non-hallucinogenic Charlotte’s Web.

“A CBD-rich strain -- and there could be dozens of them -- is something that has not so far been prioritized around the country,” said Kris Hermes of Americans for Safe Access, a Washington, D.C., lobby that advocates access to therapeutic cannabis.

For one, CBD is only one of many therapeutic cannabis compounds, Hermes said. And demand for it may have been stoked by a recent CNN documentary about CBD and severe epilepsy.

The Klepinger family of Cobb County just moved to Colorado to get Charlotte’s Web for their 8-year-old son Hunter.

“Before he started this medicine, 83 percent of his days he had seizures,” said his father, Aaron Klepinger. “Now it’s 43 percent.”

What were 20-minute seizures are down to two minutes, Klepinger said, and sometimes Hunter relaxes after just a second or two.

But “Hunter has been pulled away from his support” network, said Peake, who visited the family.

In Cobb County, Hunter and his parents are used to having grandma and grandpa as neighbors.

That’s part of why Peake wants access to the liquid in Georgia, so families can stay in their own community, living their lives as they deal with the treatments.

It’s not clear, however, how Charlotte’s Web -- or any other cannabis-derived epilepsy treatment -- could get to Georgia.

Colorado and Washington state, where recreational marijuana is legal, are both on warning from a 2013 federal Department of Justice memo that prevents export to other states.

And Peake brought back none of it from Colorado, as that would be a felony. He did bring a bottle of vanilla extract without a label to the state Capitol on Monday to show the kind of simple bottle that holds the medicine.

Though he’s still working on the logistics, universities could become a legal conduit, he said.

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