Nearly a dozen Georgians testified before a state House panel in favor of a proposal to broaden access to the state’s medical cannabis registry. A vote on the idea could come as early as next week.
However, the vote would only be the first among the many that it would take to make the change.
“I think we’ve seen over two years of the (medical cannabis registry) law being in place that the sky hasn’t fallen and that now would be a proper time to allow additional citizens to benefit from medical cannabis oil,” said state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, just after the state House Medical Cannabis Working Group heard public testimony about his House Bill 65.
The bill would for the first time open the state’s medical cannabis registry to patients who have AIDS or HIV, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, intractable pain, post-traumatic stress disorder or Tourette’s syndrome. Georgians who have a medical cannabis registry card can posses a liquid made from cannabis.
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The bill would also open the registry to people earlier in the course of treatment for some diagnoses. Right now, the registry is open to people who have a “severe” or “end-stage” diagnosis of cancer; Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as ALS; multiple sclerosis; Parkinson’s disease; and sickle cell disease. Peake’s bill cuts the words “severe” and “end-stage.”
Georgians including veterans, parents and grandchildren testified about how they say medical cannabis helps them or their family members.
LaGrange dad Dale Jackson said that last year he started illegally treating his son, Colin, who has autism, with medical cannabis oil. He has since become a vocal advocate for medical cannabis.
“My son could not communicate with me in any way,” said Jackson.
But a video he’s put online shows the two in their living room floor amid toys. Colin, 8, responds to his dad’s call to come give him a hug.
“My son can still not talk, but for one night and from now on my son can communicate his love for me. And as a parent that means everything,” said Jackson.
A total 1,220 Georgians have a medical cannabis card from the state registry, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
David Bradford, a public policy professor at the University of Georgia, told the committee that his studies suggest that dispensary-based medical cannabis programs can save lives and money in part because some patients substitute cannabis for strong, and possibly addictive, opioid painkillers.
“If you turn on a medical cannabis law … it means fewer and fewer people use pain medications,” said Bradford.
Peake said he expects the working group to vote on the bill next week. If approved, it will move to the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.
But it’s not clear how much support Peake’s bill has under the Gold Dome.
The state Senate’s top officer, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, said at the beginning of this year that the Senate may have some interest in a limited expansion to the list of diagnoses, but that they also are interested in cutting the amount of THC in Georgia-legal medical cannabis. THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Georgia medical cannabis can have no more than five percent THC.
Maggie Lee: @maggie_a_lee