House panel OKs bill for Georgia-grown medical cannabis

mlee@macon.comFebruary 26, 2014 

ATLANTA -- A bill that would legalize access to a cannabis-derived medicine in Georgia passed its first vote Wednesday, with a new provision for sourcing the illegal plant: in-state cannabis cultivation.

It passed via unanimous voice vote in the House Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday night.

“We’ve tried to address the access problem that we clearly have by providing a cultivation option” at Georgia’s five medical research universities, state Rep. Allen Peake, sponsor of House Bill 885, said of his hours-old edits.

That’s meant to get around a major roadblock to his bill: how to find marijuana to synthesize the liquid that provides some children relief from severe seizure disorders. In Colorado, where cannabis is legal, several companies manufacture such medicine, but they cannot export to other states.

“Twenty other states allow medical marijuana,” said Peake, R-Macon, and each of them grows it in state.

The “heart and intent” of the bill is to provide a safe, doctor-supervised seizure treatment option to Georgia’s families, Peake said.

Monroe County 4-year-old Haleigh Cox inspired his bill. She suffers from sometimes more than 100 seizures a day. The Cox family is looking to Colorado children who they say are getting relief from a key cannabis-derived compound, cannabidiol, or CBD.

The British government has approved a high-CBD liquid medicine, though the United States has not.

“I don’t want a bill that gives false hopes,” said state Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, chair of the committee, pointing out that cannabis is still not legal under federal law.

Cooper said as far as her research shows, no academic research institute can take something that is not FDA-approved and use it on humans without jeopardizing federal funding.

“No matter what this bill does, I will encourage children to apply for this expanded ... testing” in the U.S. of the vetted British medicine, Cooper said. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

Under the bill, the only five Georgia universities that could apply to grow and synthesize high-CBD liquid medical cannabis are Georgia Regents and the University of Georgia, plus Emory, Morehouse and Mercer universities. No school would be obliged to do medical marijuana work, but they would have the option.

Peake said Morehouse and Mercer have expressed interest if it becomes legal under state law. Both are private schools.

State Rep. Mickey Channell, R-Greensboro, said the bill isn’t perfect, “but we need to act on this.” It won’t extend every child’s life, he said, but it will improve “their quality of life while they’re still with us.”

Nearly half the state House signed the original version of Peake’s bill in January, which spoke only to liquid medicine for treating severe seizure disorders, not the cultivation of cannabis.

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