Deal seeks clinical trials for medical cannabis

mlee@macon.comApril 10, 2014 

Medical Marijuana Georgia

Blaine and Shannon Cloud, parents of a child who suffers from seizures, watch as Board of Regents Chancellor Hank Huckaby, left, and Gov. Nathan Deal discuss details of a plan announced Thursday during a news conference in Atlanta.

BOB ANDRES — Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA -- Republican Gov. Nathan Deal on Thursday announced two plans: one to expand Georgia clinical trials of a pediatric epilepsy medicine derived from cannabis, and another to privatize some state child welfare work.

The medical marijuana trials would take place in conjunction with Georgia Regents University, Deal said. They would focus on children who have severe epileptic disorders.

“Our goal has been to find pathways that will ... provide real relief for families and children in a safe and legal manner,” Deal said.

With that, Deal picks up a popular idea and brushes off the two problems besetting it: accessing a substance the federal government considers illegal, and overcoming unrelated House and Senate bickering that tripped a legislative move to do something similar this year.

The key compound Deal wants tested is liquid cannabidiol, or CBD, a chemical in the cannabis plant that does not cause users to get high but is still illegal under federal drug law.

“I’m incredibly grateful to Gov. Deal for taking action on an issue that we failed to deliver on in the Legislature,” said state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, the author of House Bill 885, which originally would have done roughly what Deal proposed Thursday.

But Peake also said if he is re-elected, he will again propose what’s in a later version of House Bill 885: decriminalization of possession of CBD oil.

Born again just this year as the Legislature’s unlikely CBD champion, Peake will also help make an announcement as early as next week about a private Georgia partnership involving medical marijuana families and supporters like himself.

They aim to announce work with Journey of Hope, a nonprofit group that helps families pay for relocation to places like Colorado, where they can access medical cannabis for their children.

Haleigh Cox, the Monroe County 4-year-old who inspired Peake’s bill, along with her mother Janea, have decamped to Colorado, forcing them to live separately from Brian Cox, Haleigh’s father and Janea’s husband, who needs to keep his Atlanta job.

It’s not clear how soon medical cannabis trials could start in Georgia. It won’t be immediate, Deal said. It will “require probably many months, hopefully not many years.” It’s not clear how many Georgia children could benefit, but Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta treats about 300 children who have intractable seizures.

Deal outlined two paths he wants to widen for parents seeking a cannabidiol liquid to help their children. Both have the advantage of being legal under federal law.

One involves drug trials pairing Georgia Regents University with a private pharmaceutical company that already manufactures a CBD-rich liquid.

A British firm called GW Pharmaceuticals already sells a CBD oil in the United Kingdom called Epidiolex, and is trying to get it approved by the U.S. FDA.

The second is Georgia Regents University-driven clinical trials, using research marijuana sourced through the federal National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“This is a great day,” said Hank Huckaby, chancellor of the University System of Georgia, who attended Thursday’s announcement.

It shows the governor’s confidence in Georgia Regents University to do quality, positive research, Huckaby said.

“The leadership there is teed up to support this effort in any way.”

At the same Thursday news conference, Deal also announced a pilot project to privatize a few more aspects of the state’s foster care work.

“Private partners will take on more placement responsibilities, and they will also take over the recruitment and retention for foster families,” Deal said. The Division of Family and Children Services “will retain overall case management responsibilities.”

The pilot project will only cover parts of the state set to be announced in the coming days.

With Deal’s re-election campaign heating up, marijuana and foster care together mark the third time in a month he has tapped the executive branch to recover fumbles made in the state Legislature.

Peake’s House Bill 885 concept won nearly unanimous support in both the House and Senate, but the Senate hitched it to a bill to require insurance companies to pay for pediatric autism treatment, a measure the House would not accept.

The House and Senate similarly agreed to some foster care privatization but differed on how much to mandate.

In March, Deal adopted an idea to make it easier to open rural medical triage centers. This week, it was a remake of the Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, formerly known as the Ethics Commission. Its last boss wrongly was forced out of her job when she started an investigation of Deal, a Fulton County jury found last week.

Election primaries are May 20.

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