Time running short on medical marijuana bill

mlee@macon.comFebruary 24, 2014 

ATLANTA -- The hourglass is emptying fast for a medical marijuana bill that is not scheduled for a vote before a key deadline.

Meanwhile, though, another idea for medicine made with compounds found in marijuana might move faster than Georgia law.

House Bill 885 by state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, would legalize doctor-supervised use of a cannabis-derived liquid medicine for severe seizures.

It’s had one hearing before the House Health and Human Services Committee, but no vote had been scheduled as of late Monday afternoon.

When asked if she planned to schedule another hearing, state Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, who chairs that committee, declined comment. Pressed further, she said, “Stay tuned.”

The bill needs to get to the House floor by March 3. That’s the Legislature’s 30th work day, known as crossover day. If bills don’t pass either the House or the Senate by that day, they go in the trash can.

Peake has made the bill his personal quest for this year, naming it for Monroe County 4-year-old Haleigh Cox, who has an epileptic disorder that can cause more than 100 seizures a day.

“It’s getting late in the game, but I’m not hitting the panic button yet,” said Peake. “I’m optimistic we’ll get an opportunity to let our members vote on it.”

At a previous hearing, Cooper, a former pediatric nurse, asked advocates of liquid cannabis medicine if they could look to a compound tested and approved in the United Kingdom instead of Colorado-manufactured formulas that are not FDA-approved.

Out in Colorado, there is something else named for Haleigh, Haleigh’s Hope, a liquid derived from cannabis that is high in cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive compound associated with epilepsy relief.

Of course, Haleigh can’t get any of the medicine in Georgia, but its would-be distributor, Atlanta’s Halcyon Organics, is preparing for a day when it can get to work in Georgia selling medicine that includes compounds found in marijuana.

“Right now, our goal is to build awareness,” said Halcyon CEO Daniel Macris.

He said a provision in the new federal farm bill that allows industrial hemp cultivation “has opened up a place for us to make high quality medicine. ... We’re really close to developing products that would be legal throughout the country.”

Hemp, a plant in the marijuana family, can be grown to be high in cannabidiol.

Indeed, the biggest question over Peake’s bill so far is where Georgians could legally acquire cannabis-derived medicine. Washington state and Colorado are not allowed to export their crops. People in Georgia are not allowed to grow any at home.

To that end, HB 885’s vague language on sourcing is undergoing revisions. One route could be industrial hemp allowed under federal law.

Another could be the research-grade marijuana that the federal government provides to approved researchers.

But if Peake cannot craft a bill that the House Health and Human Services Committee can approve, he can ask to put it in another committee.

One choice would be the Rules Committee. Normally, it’s in charge only of reading bills already passed by other committees and scheduling them for floor votes. But it can do both steps -- and sometimes does.

No matter what the route, March 3 is the latest that the Rules Committee could vote to move it for a full floor vote, and Peake would have to ask committee leadership to take a few extra administrative steps to do so.

The bill had more than 80 signatures, nearly half the House, when he filed it.

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