ATLANTA -- A proposal to exempt some compounds from a federal ban on marijuana is a “game changer,” but more needs to be done, Georgia’s top legislative advocate of medical cannabis said.
State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, said he is asking -- and is willing to beg -- Georgia’s congressional representatives to support HR 5226 by U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa.
That bill would allow possession of a “therapeutic hemp” low in THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, as well as a derivative of therapeutic hemp called cannabidiol oil, or CBD oil. Both products are too low in THC to cause a high.
U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, whose district includes Macon, “as a cancer survivor ... supports HR 5226,” according to a statement from the Democrat’s office.
Peake calls HR 5226 a game-changer in part because it would be the first carve-out from the blanket federal ban on marijuana. Also, it would allow the legal shipment of CBD from places where it is already made, such as Colorado, to Georgia patients.
“There needs to be seismic change at the federal level” to remove barriers to cannabis-derived medicine -- but only medicine, Peake said. He’s set against recreational marijuana.
But even if Perry’s bill passed, “there would still be a need for a comprehensive infrastructure in Georgia,” Peake said. He’s got more compounds in mind than just CBD oil and more disorders than just the severe pediatric seizures that CBD sometimes relieves.
Monroe County 5-year-old Haleigh Cox started taking CBD oil this year for her severe seizures, the kind of liquid she could have gotten sent to Georgia if Perry’s bill were law. Haleigh and her mom, Janea, moved to Colorado to try CBD while dad Brian stayed at home to keep his job as a firefighter.
They are working with a maker that has no waiting list and has developed a strain of CBD oil named for Haleigh. Janea Cox said her daughter is down to as few as two tremors a day, when some days it used to be 100 or more.
“She’s making huge gains because the seizures have slowed down,” Cox said. Each seizure is something like a reboot of the brain, slowing down development. The little girl has started talking in her own way that her mom can understand.
“She’s never been really vocal, so to hear her have a voice is really amazing,” Cox said. The two can also now take walks together, using a supportive truss to fasten Haleigh’s legs and feet to Cox’s so that they walk in tandem.
“I know there’s a lot of people that are very skeptical of medical marijuana, but my child’s not getting high from it,” Cox said. “We tried so many medications that never worked.”
As for Perry’s bill, she said she knows children who benefit from more marijuana compounds than Perry’s measure would allow.
Indeed, Atlanta dad Sebastien Cotte said that’s why he thinks Perry’s bill is too restrictive. Cotte’s 3-year old son, Jagger, has Leigh’s disease, a rare mitochondrial disorder that is shutting down the boy’s brain.
CBD alone might provide some comfort to Jagger, “but it is more likely not going to make much of a difference, as we need more of the entourage effect, which is all the compounds of the plant working together.”
The boy is in hospice, and doctors have given him just a few months to live.
“Other conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, (post-traumatic stress disorder) need more than CBD, so all those patients would be left out,” Cotte said. “The momentum is there for a more comprehensive bill that would (help) many more suffering Americans.”
Next year in the state Legislature, Peake plans to file a Georgia bill to create a medical marijuana framework to link patients and their doctors to a variety of liquid, solid or vapor cannabis compounds for many kinds of ailments, not just pediatric epilepsy.
Smoking is not part of Peake’s idea, but in-state grow is. Medical marijuana states such as Minnesota have set up such frameworks. It removes the threat of state law enforcement from otherwise law-abiding doctors, their patients and would-be medicine manufacturers.
A more detailed proposal is in the works from a legislative study committee Peake co-chairs on medical cannabis. It starts meeting later this month, and its members will see what other states are doing and what science says about medical cannabis, among other questions.
Peake authored a bill to allow Georgia access to CBD oil in the state Legislature this year, but House-Senate brinkmanship killed the otherwise popular bill.
Perry’s bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Judiciary Committee.
The Georgia Legislature starts work in January.