Georgia lawmakers hear dueling medical marijuana bills

A panel of state senators in Atlanta cited medical concerns as they passed a medical marijuana bill that looks to be on a collision course with a broader access proposal in the state House.

Senate Bill 16 would cut the amount of THC that’s allowed in the kind of medical cannabis that’s allowed in the state. Right now, Georgians who are on the registry can possess a liquid that’s up to 5 percent THC — the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. The Senate bill would cut that to 3 percent.

Its author, state Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, said the cut has to do with “the Senate’s comfort level.”

What’s making some of them uncomfortable is the lack of medical trials proving or disproving how marijuana, THC or other cannabis compounds might affect patients. Cannabis is also still illegal under federal law, even if states pass laws that say residents can grow or possess marijuana. It’s even difficult for medical researchers to get cannabis.

“I’m here to say the federal government has put us in a very difficult spot,” said Watson, who is a doctor.

The bill also opens the state’s medical cannabis registry to adults who have a diagnosis of autism, or a child who has a diagnosis of severe autism.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee passed the bill by a voice vote.

Sebastien Cotte left the hearing frustrated. He’s a medical cannabis advocate whose son Jagger, 6, uses medical cannabis for a mitochondrial disease.

“They are trying to find a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Cotte. He said THC is not the problem: “There are problems we need to fix such as safe access and tested products.”

Across the hall in the state House, state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, has filed a bill that would open the state’s medical cannabis registry to several new diagnoses, including autism. It’s up for a hearing Wednesday.

He’s also filed a bill that would set up a statewide referendum on the cultivation of medical cannabis in Georgia.

Maggie Lee: @maggie_a_lee

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