Politics & Government

Georgia House approves modified cannabis oil bill

State Rep. Allen Peake, center, R-Macon, looks up at his gallery of supporters Wednesday.
State Rep. Allen Peake, center, R-Macon, looks up at his gallery of supporters Wednesday. AP

ATLANTA -- By a 158-2 vote Wednesday, the state House passed a bill to legalize cannabis oil to treat seizures and a list of other major health disorders, including cancer.

It was a qualified “yes,” however. Lawmakers approved decriminalization of a type of cannabis oil if the patient has a Georgia doctor’s recommendation and gets it from a state where it is legal.

The rule requiring a Georgia doctor “was done to keep the doctor/patient relationship at the core” of the medical cannabis decision, state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, the author of House Bill 1, said ahead of the vote.

The measure now goes to the Senate.

Peake said he is not afraid the law would be abused.

“For those who want to abuse marijuana, they are not going to travel to another state. ... They can go to any street corner in any city in our state and purchase weed” that’s three to four times stronger than anything his bill allows, Peake said.

The bill still needs Senate approval and Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature before it becomes law.

A total of 23 states have workable medical cannabis programs, according to the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures.

Of those, three now allow recreational cannabis use: Colorado, Washington and Alaska.

As many as a half-million Georgians could be eligible for medical cannabis, Peake said. His bill covers nine diagnoses: cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease and sickle cell disease.

Earlier versions of the bill carried a longer list of disorders -- 17 medical conditions -- but Peake cut it in a bid for Senate and executive support -- and after criticism from law enforcement.

Peake said he is confident that at least one out-of-state company would ship medical cannabis to Georgians under his bill.

LaGrange mother Michelle Sievert watched the vote from the public gallery. Her daughter, Miranda, 20, is in Colorado taking liquid cannabis, which gives her some relief from severe epilepsy.

She said she’s happy with the bill, but “we really wanted the cultivation in it.”

That’s because conflicting laws around cannabis mean getting the liquid is still not straightforward in Georgia.

Bringing cannabis across state lines remains a federal crime. It’s a risk that many patients and caregivers are unwilling to risk.

The federal government has also instructed cannabis companies that operate under state laws not to export their products to other states.

Peake’s bill only applies to state laws and law enforcement officers.

Any Georgia patient must get a doctor’s recommendation for medical cannabis and register for a cannabis card with the Georgia Department of Public Health.

That would entitle them to posses up to 20 fluid ounces of a cannabis-derived liquid that contains no more than 5 percent THC, the active ingredient that gives marijuana users a high. These patients would get a registration card that exempts them from prosecution in Georgia for possession of medical cannabis oil that has been legally obtained in another state and meets all requirements.

The bill also creates a summer study committee that would write up recommended rules for a system of Georgia growth, manufacture and distribution of medical cannabis. Its report could form the basis of another medical marijuana bill next year.