ATLANTA -- A comprehensive proposal to grow, manufacture and distribute medical cannabis in Georgia would cover at least nine diagnoses and could become law in a few months.
If state Rep. Allen Peake’s bill is successful in the legislative session that begins Monday, liquid medicine derived from Georgia-grown cannabis could be available by the end of 2015.
That would also mean a homecoming for at least two Middle Georgians who have moved to Colorado.
The draft bill now being finalized covers cancers that cause severe pain, nausea or wasting; fibromyalgia; glaucoma; AIDS; Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS; multiple sclerosis; seizure disorders characteristic of epilepsy; Crohn’s disease and mitochondrial diseases, said Peake, R-Macon.
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There are even more under consideration, including post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, Tourette’s syndrome and terminal illnesses, Peake said.
The bill also would create a medical board to advise the Legislature on cannabis policy.
Peake is trying to hit what he called a “sweet spot” between maximizing relief for people who have specific debilitating illnesses while locking the door against anything that could propel Georgia toward recreational marijuana use.
Peake is dead set against products with names like “Super Skunk” or “Royal Kush.”
What he wants are medicines like “Haleigh’s Hope,” a liquid developed for Monroe County 5-year-old Haleigh Cox that relieves her severe seizures. Her mother moved her to Colorado last year for the treatment.
Just last week, 26-year-old Katie Crosby of Macon arrived in Colorado, too, in pain and hardly able to walk due to fibromyalgia. The car ride there was “one of the toughest things I’ve ever done,” Crosby said.
“You’re coming from a girl who was stuck in her den, blinding all her lights out” due to sensory sensitivity and pain, and hardly even able to take a shower, she said.
Just days into a Colorado medical cannabis oil treatment, “it has just been a complete miracle,” Crosby said.
By early Monday afternoon, she had showered, dressed, done her hair and makeup, and visited a friend.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a total 23 states have passed workable medical cannabis programs.
The path to access medical marijuana in Georgia would be similar the paths in other states, Peake said.
“You as a citizen would go to an approved physician ... get a written recommendation,” then go to the Department of Public Health to get a card, Peake said. “Then you would be eligible to go to the retail center.”
At the retail center, “you’re not going to see plants ... you’re going to see a bunch of vials of oil,” he said.
That’s because House Bill 1 loosens only the law for liquid medicine derived from therapeutic varieties of cannabis grown in a handful of licensed greenhouses.
There would be no whole plants and no growing marijuana at home.
The law would fix the compounds in each batch of medicine, checked for safety by independent labs. The medicine must be relatively low in THC, the chemical that causes a high.
But Crosby attributes her pain relief to what some doctors call the “entourage effect”: the effect of the mix of all the chemicals, including THC, that make up a medicine.
Adult medicine would be capped at 5 percent THC with a minimum 1-to-1 ratio of cannabidiol to THC, according to Peake’s bill. Also called CBD, cannabidiol is a non-psychoactive chemical in cannabis that provides seizure relief to some people and that partially counteracts THC.
That recipe is about what Crosby takes and she hopes to see it allowed in Georgia.
“It doesn’t make you high, but it’s more effective” than CBD alone, she said.
Childrens’ medicine would top out at 3 percent THC, according to Peake’s draft.
Several companies already are sniffing around the Peach State for medical marijuana opportunities. The bill will propose only about 10 licenses for the work of growing, manufacturing and retailing medical cannabis.
That would also mean business for related services such as lab testing and software to link law enforcement with regulatory agencies.
Peake has spent the past few months as co-chairman of a study committee tasked with researching best practices for medical marijuana and holding hearings in several Georgia cities. He also visited Colorado and set up a fund to help pay travel expenses for Georgia families to access medical cannabis in other states.
Peake said he knows of 17 families whom he calls “medical refugees.”
The project has become something of a personal quest for him. Peake said he knows the benefits of medical cannabis are anecdotal, not scientifically proven. The difficulty of getting cannabis has chilled U.S. research.
But “there is such compelling anecdotal evidence that it would be immoral to look the other way and say, “Oh there’s not enough data so we shouldn’t go down this path,’” he said.
A bill Peake nearly got passed last year would have decriminalized Georgia possession of cannabis oil legally obtained in other states for children. The popular bill died in House-Senate horse-trading on the last day of the session.