Politics & Government

Peake bill on medical cannabis is first in the hopper

ATLANTA -- When the state Legislature meets in January, House Bill 1 will be a proposal to legalize a form of medical cannabis.

The bill’s author, state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, showed up earlier than any other lawmaker Monday morning, the first day the House clerk accepts bills for next year’s calendar, and he got the symbolic number.

At less than two pages, the bill is a sort of “mission statement,” not a finished product, Peake said.

The bill proposes a limited number of licensees to grow, manufacture and distribute medical marijuana in Georgia. The bill is limited to medicine that’s a liquid or a pill. No smoking would be allowed.

In fact, no compound with a THC content that could cause a high is part of the vision. The bill will set some THC cap yet to be settled. Instead, the medicines will be rich in other cannabis chemicals, such as cannabidiol, that do not cause a high.

“We believe the negligible amounts (of THC) would not be sufficient to cause someone to fail a drug test” by taking a Georgia-approved medicine, Peake said.

But just in case, Peake said the bill will contain language to protect both employees and employers’ drug-free workplace policies.

The bill will also list the diagnoses that will be eligible for a cannabis treatment. That list is not final, but it would at least include severe pediatric seizures.

It will be called the Haleigh’s Hope Act, named for 5-year-old Haleigh Cox of Monroe County. Haleigh suffered sometimes hundreds of seizures a day until she was brought to Colorado for a cannabidiol-rich medical marijuana treatment. She now has seizure-free days.

In the past few months, however, three other Georgia young people have died of disorders that might have been helped by medical marijuana, Peake said.

“We cannot move fast enough” on the bill “in honor and memory of Abe (Hopkins), Trinty (Sumlin) and Mary Elizabeth (Hopkins),” he said.

The finished bill will be much longer than two pages, in part to avoid some of the unforeseen problems that developed in other states.

Under federal law, cannabis and all its products are illegal. In other states, nursing homes, hospitals and public housing have been wary of letting a federally banned substance onto their premises.

Peake said he’s working on bill language to provide patient protections in those environments.

“We’re going to have a strict regulatory process,” he said.

Peake first tried to pass a medical marijuana bill earlier this year, soon after he met Haliegh Cox. That proposal would have decriminalized possession of pediatric seizure medicine legally obtained in other states. The concept won House and Senate approval in slightly different forms. It had the drawback of forcing families to bring medical cannabis across state lines, even though it is not supposed to leave the state where it is manufactured.

House-Senate wrangling brought down that bill on the last day of the 2014 session. The Senate would not pass the cannabis bill unless it was attached to a separate measure to mandate that insurance companies cover pediatric autism. The House rejected the autism bill.