ATLANTA -- At least 20 families plan a rally at the state Capitol on Tuesday in favor of in-state growth of a type of medical cannabis that they say could help their children.
Medical cannabis for children has been an issue at the Capitol for nearly a year, but some parents are criticizing the latest proposal. It would require that medical cannabis be acquired in another state, which would then be decriminalized in Georgia.
But transporting cannabis remains a federal crime that they fear will make smugglers out of them.
A Macon legislator said he’s willing to undertake civil disobedience to help.
Gov. Nathan Deal says a decriminalization bill is “a first step.”
Smyrna mom Shannon Cloud said she doesn’t know if medical cannabis would help relieve the seizures that her daughter Alaina, 9, suffers due to Dravet syndrome. But she wants to try something that has helped other children.
“We’re here in Georgia and hoping to have access to medicine,” Cloud said. “We were hoping for grow.”
The Cloud family’s hopes began rising last year when state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, proposed in-state growth, manufacture and distribution of certain types of medical marijuana.
But on Friday after a meeting with Deal, Peake announced the upcoming draft of House Bill 1 would not allow that. Instead, it will decriminalize Georgia possession of low-THC liquid medical marijuana legally obtained in another state.
It would also create a committee to draft rules for an in-state growth program for legislative consideration in 2016.
“Gov. Deal, to his credit, wants to make sure we’re moving in a prudent manner. ... While I believe I could provide a model that could work this year, he’s the governor of this state and I have to defer to him,” Peake said.
“The first step is simply to be able to bring those children and families that have left our state because of the unavailability of the cannabis oil, to be able to bring them back into our state and to provide them immunity from prosecution,” Deal said.
Villa Rica dad Jonathan Jiles said that is not helpful.
“What we’re talking about is drug running,” he said.
His toddler Kason has Ohtahara syndrome, an epileptic disorder. He wants his son off the pharmaceuticals that reduce his seizures at the cost of severely tranquilizing the boy.
Jiles wants Kason to be able to try cannabidiol oil. Known as CBD oil, the liquid is made from specially bred cannabis plants, does not cause a high and provides relief from severe seizures to some children.
So while HB 1 would protect him from Georgia prosecution, it would not protect him from federal drug laws.
Selling to Georgians also puts cannabis companies at risk. The federal Department of Justice has told cannabis companies that operate under state laws to keep their products in state if they want to avoid federal drug charges.
“The person who grows it could get in trouble,” said Monroe County mom Janea Cox.
She temporarily moved to Colorado with her daughter, Haleigh, to get CBD oil for the little girl’s severe seizures. She describes Haleigh’s progress as “waking up.”
But she doesn’t want to jeopardize the people who make Haleigh’s medicine, or their other patients, by carrying their product to another state.
Peake said he’s looking for interim options for families such as the Coxes, whom he calls “medical refugees.”
For one, he said, companies in other states might be willing to ship Georgians medical cannabis that is too weak to trigger the federal prohibition on cannabis.
He said he’s also going to ask Deal to ask the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to authorize a shipment of medical marijuana from Colorado’s government to Georgia’s government for distribution.
Or there’s option three.
“I am willing to risk going to jail to get cannabis oil for these families,” he said.
That is, fetch the oil from Colorado for them. It’s a risk that a dad who has a special needs child might not be able to take, he said. Peake’s own children are grown.
Cox said she’s “disappointed” that an in-state grow does not look viable this year. But she said it’s still a step in the right direction.
Cloud said she still supports HB 1, but the old version would have put seeds in the ground rather than promises on paper.
In the quickest scenario, medical cannabis would be available in Georgia by about fall of 2016.
Jiles said he now supports Senate Bill 7.
That’s a medical marijuana bill from state Sen. Curt Thompson, D-Tucker. It would allow in-state growth and thus practical access for the Jiles family.
“That will make a difference in my son’s life,” he said.
The state legislative session began Monday and runs for 40 nonconsecutive days.