Peake pledges medical cannabis rematch

mlee@macon.comMarch 21, 2014 

ATLANTA -- The Macon lawmaker who championed a bid to link Georgia families with a cannabis-derived medicine for severe seizures pledged to try again next year.

The proposal, by state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, died in the state Legislature late Thursday. Peake blamed politics, not policy, for the failure.

“It is now my mission in the state Legislature for whatever time I have left” to renew the medical cannabis push, Peake said. (Like all state lawmakers, he’s up for re-election this year.)

It is a “sad day for Georgia families,” Peake said Friday afternoon. “When it is clear that almost unanimous consent is given in support of this bill by both chambers, it is incomprehensible that it would not be given a chance for final passage because of the political agenda of a powerful few.”

That was a reference to state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, and Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. Unterman championed a long-negotiated and researched measure to require insurance companies to cover pediatric autism treatments. Cagle, as Senate president, decides what gets a vote in his chamber, and he supported the autism measure.

For them, the problem was the state House. The House had declined to vote on the autism bill, SB 397, by state Sen. Tim Golden, R-Valdosta. Critics fear it’s too pricey a mandate for insurance companies. So Unterman merged the Senate-approved autism bill with Peake’s House-approved cannabis bill when it arrived in her Health and Human Services Committee.

The House approved the standalone cannabis bill, House Bill 885, the Senate approved the merged one, and there they sat deadlocked.

In a late Thursday “Hail Mary” effort, Peake sent a standalone cannabis bill to the Senate, but Cagle never called a vote.

The Senate “never should have linked the two,” Peake said. “They had to know that would potentially kill both (bills). Why play chess with the lives of Georgia families?”

Unterman, however, defended the decision to try and force autism passage by linking it to the cannabis measure.

“We care about all children in the state of Georgia and not just a certain segment of children,” she said Thursday night. “These children are all in need. We want them treated equally, and we wanted both bills passed.”

Peake’s measure would have decriminalized possession of a non-hallucinogenic liquid medicine derived from cannabis, if it’s prescribed and filled in a place where it’s legal, such as Colorado.

The next legislative session begins in January 2015.

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