It took fewer than 10 minutes for a state House committee to vote to open Georgia’s medical cannabis registry to those who have six new conditions.
It was a short hearing over what’s actually been a minutely negotiated and closely watched bill. In the room Friday at the Capitol, there was both relief and frustration at the compromise over Georgians and access to medical cannabis.
“You never get everything you want in legislation here at the Capitol. What we want to do is try and advance the ball as much as possible, provide as many conditions on the list as possible. ... Sometimes we have to compromise to get to the end game,” said state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, who proposed a much wider expansion in January. He also wants to legalize medical marijuana cultivation in Georgia.
The diagnoses that would be added are: “severe” cases of autism for people under the age of 18 or any autism diagnosis for people ages 18 or older; severe or end-stage cases of Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS or peripheral neuropathy; severe Tourette’s syndrome; or any case of the painful skin disease epidermolysis bullosa. It would also open the registry to people in hospice programs.
Dale Jackson choked up a little after the hearing. He has already been illegally giving his 8-year-old son Colin liquid medical cannabis as part of several therapies for autism. Clutching a copy of the bill, Jackson said, “For the first time ever, there is a possible solution in sight that includes my son and thousands of other autistic families across the state.”
Shannon Cloud was also watching the hearing. Her 11-year-old daughter Alaina has a medical cannabis card so she can take the liquid for severe seizures. Cloud said it’s good whenever more people can get access, but it’s frustrating that the bill doesn’t include more people.
“Why are we having to come back every year and add a few more conditions? It should be up to the doctors to decide who should get access. Legislators shouldn’t be deciding who they think is worthy of getting relief,” Cloud said.
Virginia Galloway, regional director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a national conservative group, was also in the audience. She called medical cannabis “dangerous experimentation” on Georgia’s children.
To people who call cannabis a medicine, she countered that it ought to be vetted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“There are also harmful effects that we don’t necessarily know about, so we need double-blind placebo studies just like every other drug,” Galloway said.
There are more than 1,300 active patients on Georgia’s medical cannabis registry for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and severe seizures. That means they can possess a type of liquid made from cannabis without worrying about trouble from Georgia law enforcement.
Eight states have legalized small amounts of recreational marijuana, and another 20 have medical cannabis programs that include some provision to grow or distribute the drug. Some others, like Georgia, allow some medical cannabis possession, but not cultivation, sales or distribution. All those state laws conflict with the federal prohibition on cannabis.
Maggie Lee: @maggie_a_lee