ATLANTA -- In front of a packed room at the Georgia Capitol, Monroe County mother Janea Cox pleaded for her daughters life at the first hearing on a new medical marijuana proposal.
Im 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.
Were going to break up my family, a tearful Cox said while her child was a few miles away at Childrens 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.
Haleighs breathing continues to stop regularly, she said. The mother and daughter were packing for Colorado when the first episode happened.
Peakes 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 Peakes 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 Mondays 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.
Hes 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 its not Mississippi cannabis or a UK-approved CBD-rich medication with federal approval, its 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, its not clear how long it would take to get started.
Indeed, even for a CBD-rich pediatric anti-seizure medicine that doesnt have FDA approval, theres a line more than 2,000 people deep, said its Colorado Springs, Co.-based manufacturer Joel Stanley.
The customers for his Charlottes Web are people who just love their kids, not recreational marijuana activists, Stanley said.
Charlottes Web costs about $150 to $250 per patient per month, depending on the dose required, said Stanley. Its named for Charlotte Figi, a Colorado girl whose seizure disorder was relived by the liquid.
But Susan Rusche is critical of substances like Charlottes 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 dont want to condone reckless trial and error, she said at Mondays hearing. Shes sticking with medicines that have been researched for side effects and interactions.
I dont want my son to be a guinea pig, she said.
But besides the legal and medical debate, theres 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 its dead for the year.
A hearing for public comment is tentatively scheduled for Thursday in the House Health and Human Services Committee.