Monroe mother makes plea for medical marijuana to legislators

mlee@macon.comFebruary 10, 2014 

Monroe County mom Janea Cox gets a reassuring word from state Rep. Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgeville, after she asked a House panel for local access to a cannabis-based liquid medicine that she hopes will help her daughter Haleigh. Haleigh suffers from severe seizures. Photo by Maggie Lee

ATLANTA -- In front of a packed room at the Georgia Capitol, Monroe County mother Janea Cox pleaded for her daughter’s life at the first hearing on a new medical marijuana proposal.

“I’m going to lose my child if this drug is not approved,” said Cox, whose daughter Haleigh is the inspiration and namesake for House Bill 885, by state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon.

“We’re going to break up my family,” a tearful Cox said while her child was a few miles away at Children’s Hospital of Atlanta at Egleston, where she has been for more than 50 days since a severe attack that caused her to stop breathing for several minutes.

Cox said her husband would stay in Georgia to keep his job.

Haleigh’s breathing continues to stop regularly, she said. The mother and daughter were packing for Colorado when the first episode happened.

Peake’s bill would open a door for Georgians to access to a liquid medicine derived from cannabis for treatment of severe seizure disorders.

“It has extremely low levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the part that makes you high,” said Peake, and is “low in CBD,” or cannabidiol, a therapeutic compound.

“I would posit this is not marijuana. This is an extract from a chemical from a plant,” said Dr. Michael Greene of Macon, speaking for the Medical Association of Georgia.

The association adamantly opposes recreational marijuana but favors Peake’s bill, saying it includes adequate safeguards and is narrowly enough written.

“If you have a family member with this, your family is consumed with this,” said Greene. And some of the other treatments for severe epilepsy, he said, include drastic measures like severing some of the connections in the brain.

But there is a lot between Monday’s hearing and any cannabis derivative arriving at the Cox house.

“The elephant in the room is the (federal Drug Enforcement Agency)," said Rick Allen, director of the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency.

He’s in charge of overseeing prescription drugs in Georgia as they pass through the hands of pharmacists, doctors and researchers.

He noted that the only marijuana farm the federal government considers legal is its own patch at the University of Mississippi, which is used for federally approved cannabis research.

But if it’s not Mississippi cannabis or a UK-approved CBD-rich medication with federal approval, it’s no good, Allen said.

“The drugs from Colorado could not come into Georgia legally,” he said. “Nobody wants a raid from the DEA.”

“Our biggest challenge so far is how do we get medical cannabis to Georgia,” Peake said.

In other states, trials are going on with a CBD-rich medicine, but there is more demand than supply for those programs. And if a doctor in Georgia wanted to start research, it’s not clear how long it would take to get started.

Indeed, even for a CBD-rich pediatric anti-seizure medicine that doesn’t have FDA approval, there’s a line more than 2,000 people deep, said its Colorado Springs, Co.-based manufacturer Joel Stanley.

The customers for his Charlotte’s Web “are people who just love their kids,” not recreational marijuana activists, Stanley said.

Charlotte’s Web costs about $150 to $250 per patient per month, depending on the dose required, said Stanley. It’s named for Charlotte Figi, a Colorado girl whose seizure disorder was relived by the liquid.

But Susan Rusche is critical of substances like Charlotte’s Web because the FDA does not oversee its production or approve its use.

Children have a right to safe medicines, not “impure, unsafe, experimental drugs,” said Rusche, president and CEO of the Atlanta-based anti-substance abuse organization National Families in Action.

Karen Tinker, a mother of an epileptic son, also wants to go slow.

“I don’t want to condone reckless trial and error,” she said at Monday’s hearing. She’s sticking with medicines that have been researched for side effects and interactions.

“I don’t want my son to be a guinea pig,” she said.

But besides the legal and medical debate, there’s also a calendar to think about.

The state legislative session is half over. There are just 20 more working days left this year, and the bill must pass the House of Representatives by day 30, or it’s dead for the year.

A hearing for public comment is tentatively scheduled for Thursday in the House Health and Human Services Committee.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service