ATLANTA -- A bill to enshrine medical marijuana testing in Georgia law won state Senate approval Friday, setting the stage for negotiations over a wider measure.
“We must not put our citizens under jeopardy of federal law,” said state Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, explaining his Senate Bill 185. It directs Georgia’s university system to design and conduct clinical tests on pediatric epilepsy patients using medical marijuana from legal federal channels.
Such testing started in the current fiscal year at Georgia Regents University in Augusta at a cost of $4.9 million, under an executive order from Gov. Nathan Deal.
“The desire that I have in passing this bill is to expand that program,” Tippins said ahead of the 54-1 vote.
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Tippins called his bill an “alternative” to House Bill 1 by state Rep. Allen Peake, R- Macon.
Peake’s bill would decriminalize possession of a certain kind of liquid medical marijuana for nine diagnoses, for all ages, as long as it was obtained legally in another state.
Peake’s bill has the drawback of closing an eye to drug smuggling. It remains illegal under federal law to carry any cannabis product across state lines.
But a Senate gatekeeper said she wants to work on a compromise bill between the two.
“Our goal is to combine Senate Bill 185 with House Bill 1,” said state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, the chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
Her committee is scheduled to hear House Bill 1 as early as Thursday. A draft compromise could appear as early as that hearing.
Peake said he is optimistic that the House and Senate can settle on a bill that gives a wide range of Georgians practical access to medical cannabis, and that allows a homecoming for Georgia families who have temporarily moved to Colorado to get medicine.
“I’m going to continue to advocate to have every single one of the nine diagnoses” covered, he said.
Tippins’ bill covers only pediatric epilepsy and only protects clinical trial participants from Georgia prosecution.
Peake’s bill removes any age limits and also allows possession by people who have cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease and sickle cell disease. It does not require the patient to be in a clinical study.
Tippins said he is “not sure” it is appropriate to have diseases that are epilepsy-related and pain-related in the same study. Limiting it to epilepsy and building data quickly could fast-track federal reconsideration of cannabis altogether, he said.
The kind of medical marijuana in both bills is a liquid rich in cannabidiol, or CBD, a compound in cannabis that does not cause a high. But they disagree on a cap on the content of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. Peake would cap it at 5 percent. Tippins advocates a 0.3 percent cap.
The two sides have until April 2 to deliver a bill to Deal’s desk for his consideration.
Separately, state Sen. Curt Thompson, D-Tucker, has suggested setting up two statewide referendums: one on legalizing cannabis completely or another legalizing it for all medicinal purposes. Neither of his referendum bills has gotten a hearing this year.
Thompson praised Peake’s bill, saying it would get medicine into the hands of people who need it.
The clinical testing-only bill, Thompson said, is only “window dressing.”
He cast the only vote against it.