The Georgia Senate voted on Thursday open the state’s medical marijuana registry to patents who have autism and to roll back the amount of THC that’s allowed in medical cannabis oil in Georgia.
State Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, author of Senate Bill 16, said that he thinks there is anecdotal evidence that cannabis might have medical benefits, but he’s also concerned about potential side effects.
Under his bill, people 18 and older who have a diagnosis of autism could join the registry, as could younger people, if a physician determines they have severe autism.
The bill also cuts the amount of THC allowed in Georgia cannabis oil. THC is the main compound in marijuana that causes a high. Right now, Georgia law allows the more than 1,200 people on registry to possess a liquid that’s up to 5 percent THC. The Senate bill cuts that to 3 percent.
Watson, who is a doctor, called on the federal government to reset its laws on cannabis to make medical studies easier.
“We need randomized, controlled trials for this particular medicine,” Watson said from the Senate floor, ahead of the 41-12 vote on his bill.
State Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, offered an amendment to move the cap down to 1 percent THC.
He said THC is addictive, it can cause mental disorders and noted that cannabis is illegal under federal law. He said the state needs to “act responsibly” when it comes to the compound.
But his amendment was defeated.
More than half the U.S. states allow cultivation of cannabis for either medical or recreational use despite the federal ban on it. Of those states, some, such as Georgia, also cap THC levels.
Another senator, however, offered an amendment to keep the cap at 5 percent THC.
“I have not heard a great cry for us to reduce this percentage,” said state Sen. P.K. Martin, R-Lawrenceville.
He said senators don’t have a lot of scientific studies, but they do hear stories of patients who benefit from liquids with 5 percent THC.
Martin’s amendment was also defeated.
Sebastien Cotte was among a handful of parents-turned-activists who watched the debate in the state Senate. He gives his son Jagger, 6, a liquid with 5 percent THC to treat pain and seizures linked to a severe mitochondrial disease.
He said he and other parents are are going to be in the Legislature for every step in the process, as they have for years.
“This is just the first step ... we’ll do everything we can to have autism and as many other conditions added and not touch the THC percentage level,” Cotte said.
Indeed, on the other side of the state Capitol, the House is already hearing a broader medical cannabis access bill. It’s by state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon.
Peake said he’s grateful the state Senate wants to add an additional condition, but he sees negotiations ahead.
“This is the first down in a long football drive here. Our (House) bill’s going to be a lot different. We’re going to have more conditions on it and the THC level is not going to be touched,” Peake said
His House Bill 65 would open the registry to people who have AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, HIV, intractable pain, post-traumatic stress disorder or Tourette’s syndrome.
It would also allow patients to sign up earlier in the course of treatments for cancer; Lou Gehrig’s disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and sickle cell disease.
And it leaves the THC cap unchanged at 5 percent.
In a separate piece of legislation, Peake is asking for a public referendum to allow cultivation of marijuana in Georgia for medical purposes. Though Georgia law allows possession of medical cannabis, state law does not allow its sale or manufacture.
His House Resolution 36 has yet to get its first hearing.
Maggie Lee: @maggie_a_lee