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Deal says no to growing medical marijuana in Georgia

By MAGGIE LEE

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said he is not convinced that Georgia could control the use of medical cannabis plant.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said he is not convinced that Georgia could control the use of medical cannabis plant. AP

ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is skeptical of a Macon lawmaker’s idea of growing medical cannabis in Georgia, saying he is not convinced the state could control the use of the plant.

“I still don’t think we have sufficient information or ability to control something of that nature if we start production and processing here in our state,” Deal said Wednesday morning.

That puts a roadblock in front of a plan by state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, to try and legalize in-state growing as early as next year of specially-bred cannabis used to make medicine.

Georgians who have certain severe illnesses and who have a doctor’s recommendation can possess a liquid cannabis medicine under a state law that Peake pushed through the Legislature earlier this year.

But Peake says Georgia’s medical cannabis patients need marijuana grown in the state so they can get their medicine easily. Right now, they have to risk federal drug-smuggling laws if they bring in cannabis from states where it is legal.

Peake said he hopes the governor can be won over.

“I’m hoping we can provide him a compelling argument that we can minimize public safety risks while optimizing real future benefits for Georgians,” Peake said.

“I am absolutely convinced that we can offer a model that would calm the fears of law enforcement and minimize any public safety issues,” he said.

He points to Minnesota as an example. There, medical marijuana in the form of pills, oils and liquids are legal and must come from one of just two authorized manufacturers.

A report with policy recommendations will be published in the coming weeks by a study committee that Deal appointed earlier this year to look at the question of growing pot in the state. Peake was co-chairman of the committee of lawmakers, medical professionals and law enforcement officers, among others.

Members of that group visited Colorado to tour growing and processing facilities earlier this year. Deal said what he heard intensified his concerns.

“In talking with the law enforcement officials who were part of that visit to Colorado, they have probably undergirded my concern of being able to have this in a controlled environment more so than my concern was previously,” the governor said.

Unless there is something new in the study committee’s report that he’s not aware of, Deal said he cannot support growing the drug in Georgia.

Law enforcement professionals from several agencies, including prosecutors, have been the loudest skeptics of growing cannabis plants in the state. Some have warned that criminals could use the label of medicine to mask illegal operations.

Without Deal’s support, any in-state grow proposal would need a veto-proof super-majority vote in the state Legislature to become law.

A total 23 states have comprehensive cannabis programs, meaning there’s some practical access to the substance, according to the nonpartisan National Conference of state Legislatures. Of those, four plus Washington, D.C. have legalized cannabis for both medicine and recreation.

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