ATLANTA -- The families and businesses wanting to see marijuana for medical uses grown in Georgia announced the new nonprofit called Georgians for Freedom in Health Care, which they plan to use to carry a new state law next year.
The problem, its supporters say, is that Georgia’s new 2015 medical marijuana law does not go far enough. It allows possession of up to 20 ounces of liquid derived from specially bred cannabis for Georgians who have one of eight diagnoses and a doctor’s permission.
But what Georgia doesn’t do is allow anyone in the state to make or sell the liquid.
So some Georgians rely on trips to marijuana-legal states like Colorado, even though carrying their medicine over state lines constitutes federal drug smuggling. Others rely on out-of-state companies to venture into the legal gray area of shipping cannabis products as legal “hemp” dietary supplements.
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“We have a chance to do the right thing right here in Georgia,” said Blaine Cloud, who is co-chairman of Georgians for Freedom in Health Care with his wife, Shannon Cloud. They both attended the launch of the coalition in Atlanta on Tuesday.
The nonprofit will aim to get a law on in-state growing of medical marijuana passed during next year’s legislative session, which starts in January. Georgians for Freedom in Health Care will be something of an umbrella group for the numerous families and companies that have lobbied for nearly two years for medical marijuana in the state.
“Having to travel back and forth to get medicine is just not viable for everyone,” Shannon Cloud said.
The Clouds’ 10-year-old daughter Alaina Cloud has Dravet syndrome, which causes seizures and developmental delays.
“Our hope for her is that medical cannabis will give her a much better quality of life, in general, and still keep the seizures controlled and not require her to be on so many medications, which are dangerous to her body,” Shannon Cloud said.
“This is not the recreational smoking use of marijuana,” said state Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, one of the coalition’s supporters. “This is a medicine, a medicine that our citizens need to have access to, not just to be able to possess but to be able to access it, to be able to purchase it.”
An early proposal this year would have allowed in-state grow and made more people eligible for medical marijuana cards. But the proposal’s author, state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, had to curtail it to win the support of Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.
“I think there is still some skepticism among the medical community and law enforcement and even the legislative body” about in-state grow, said Peake, who still supports it.
Georgia’s sheriffs and prosecutors have testified that in-state grow could make life easier for weed dealers. They fear, for example, growers would plant THC-rich pot, not just the medicinal marijuana that’s low in the psychoactive chemical.
Peake said he also knows critics fear Georgia following Colorado down the path of full legalization.
“We are not going down the path of legalization,” Peake said, “no matter who supports it.”
Instead, he said he is confident that Georgia can come up with a model that gets medical cannabis to the people who need it and keeps it away from anyone else.
Peake first proposed loosening medical cannabis laws in 2014, inspired by Haleigh Cox, a girl from Monroe County who used to have more than 200 seizures some days. Now 6 years old, Haleigh Cox and her mother, Janea Cox, have just moved back home to Georgia after a sojourn in Colorado. There, the girl began a therapy regime that includes liquid medical cannabis. Janea Cox said the treatment has cut Haleigh’s seizures dramatically.
“She’s doing really well,” said Janea Cox, adding that Haleigh had no seizures on the flight from Colorado on Monday.
Peake said he thinks testimony from families like the Coxes will help convince skeptics of the value of medical cannabis.
Peake also is co-chairman of a study committee of lawmakers, law enforcement and medical professionals that are looking at other states’ grow models. The Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis will publish recommendations later this year.
A parallel task force will start work in November, organized by state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, D-Lithonia. Dawkins-Haigler, chairwoman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, noted that there are no black or Hispanic physicians, legislators or lawmakers on the commission.
“I think it should be more inclusive,” she said. “By not including everyone, information is not trickling down to other communities.”
Dawkins-Haigler is collecting nominees now for the task force, and she said it will reach out to black and Hispanic churches as well as social and civic groups.
“This is a very important issue,” said Dawkins-Haigler, who herself has used medical cannabis to combat the effects of cancer chemotherapy.
The members of her caucus broadly supported medical marijuana legislation this year, but only after sickle cell disease was restored to the list of diagnoses eligible for the liquid.
In the U.S., most people who have the disease are of African ancestry or identify themselves as black.
The state Legislature is dominated by Republicans, and there are no black GOP legislators. But Dawkins-Haigler said that unless bill-writers are inclusive of the suggestions and input that come out of minority communities, her caucus could be hesitant to support next year’s bill.
To contact writer Maggie Lee, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.