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Georgia House forms medical cannabis study group

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, pictured in this Feb. 2016 file photo with medical cannabis supporters, will chair a new group of state House lawmakers who will work on medical cannabis policy.
State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, pictured in this Feb. 2016 file photo with medical cannabis supporters, will chair a new group of state House lawmakers who will work on medical cannabis policy. The Telegraph

A new medical cannabis study committee will start work in the Georgia House this year, and it will look at ways to link qualified Georgians with the cannabis compounds that they say help relieve their medical problems.

House Speaker David Ralson, R-Blue Ridge, announced the formation of the group on Wednesday. The chair will be Macon Republican state Rep. Allen Peake, author of the state’s medical cannabis possession law.

“I think the naming of this committee just reinforces that this is a real priority for the House, a real priority for Speaker Ralston. And I think that’s a good thing for a lot of Georgia citizens who could potentially benefit,” Peake said.

The new group will be able to hold hearings, and its members will be able to file bills.

Peake has announced two medical cannabis legislative plans this year. First, he will ask fellow lawmakers to set up a 2018 statewide referendum on the cultivation of medical cannabis in Georgia. Second, he wants to open Georgia’s medical cannabis registry to people who have more diagnoses, including post-traumatic stress disorder, autism and chronic pain.

Asked about Peake’s in-state cultivation proposal, Ralson said during a news conference last week, “What I think is important is that we be able to fulfill the promise that was contained in the original (medical cannabis registry) legislation providing access to Georgians.”

Under Georgia law now, patients who have one of eight diagnoses can sign up to the state’s medical cannabis registry, which allows them to possess certain liquid mixes of medical cannabis. But they have no clear way to buy a product that’s banned by the federal government. Most states have approved medical or recreational cannabis cultivation, but they are supposed to make sure those products stay within their own borders.

Indeed, one unknown that the new Georgia House group will face is whether the new administration in Washington, D.C., will begin to enforce anti-drug laws in medical cannabis states. President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general. During his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Sessions left some question over his views.

Back in Georgia, it’s far from clear that Peake or any other medical cannabis supporters will get wide support this session. Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, in remarks last week, said he thinks the Senate may be interested in a “limited expansion” of the diagnoses eligible for the medical cannabis registry in exchange for a cut in the amount of THC allowed in Georgia-approved products. THC is the main psychoactive chemical in cannabis.

Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, after a key policy speech on Wednesday, declined comment on the in-state cultivation proposal, saying it is not part of his legislative agenda. He has been an opponent of in-state growth.

Maggie Lee: @maggie_a_lee

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