Politics & Government

Deal jump-starts medical cannabis registry

ATLANTA -- Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed an executive order Friday instructing state agencies to start preparing a registry for legal medical marijuana possession, but he said he remains cautious about calls for in-state growth and manufacturing.

The order jump-starts provisions of House Bill 1, by state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, which the Legislature sent to Deal’s desk this week.

“This executive order is the first step in bringing home families who’ve sought relief elsewhere and for providing new medical solutions for Georgians suffering from debilitating conditions,” Deal said.

The bill says Georgians who have one of eight diagnoses will be able to possess a kind of liquid medicine derived from cannabis, if they have Georgia approval and get it from a state where it is legal.

The governor’s push now is “crucial,” Peake said, so that Georgia does not end up like Florida. Florida passed a medical cannabis law last year, but its government has yet to implement the law.

The Georgia Department of Public Health and the Georgia Composite Medical Board will work on a patient waiver, certification form and eventually the database that will hold the names of patients certified to hold medical cannabis. Deal said preliminary meetings involving those groups are already underway.

“The patient will receive a card signifying authorization to be in possession of cannabis oil with no more than 5 percent THC in its makeup,” Deal said.

The liquid medicine in the bill does not cause a high but is rich in cannabidiol, or CBD, which some people report relieves pain or severe seizures.

Monroe County 5-year-old Haleigh Cox no longer suffers from the more than 100 seizures a day she’d had since moving temporarily from Georgia to Colorado for CBD oil, said her mom Janea Cox, standing with Deal at the signing ceremony.

Haleigh went from her “death bed ... to a smiling, happy girl who says words now and looks us in the eye and lets us know she’s in there ... It means the world to us,” Janea Cox said.

The bill means Janea will be exempt from Georgia prosecution for possessing Haleigh’s medicine. The two plan to move back home and reunite with Haleigh’s dad, Brian Cox, who stayed in Georgia to keep his job.

However, the bill does nothing and can do nothing about the federal law that makes a smuggler out of anyone who carries cannabis across state lines.

Cox is not worried about that right now.

“I think most families are at the point where they are willing to move heaven and earth for their children,” she said.

But she and other Georgia medical cannabis families do not intend to break federal law long. For one, she thinks some Colorado companies may be willing to ship medical cannabis to Georgia.

Also, “I think we’re all in agreement that cultivation is our next big step,” she said at a ceremony this week. “We’re going to look at Gov. Deal and hopefully he’ll be able to help us in that.”

Deal, standing just behind her, answered later.

“I understand we have a lot of volunteers who claim they have practical experience” growing cannabis, he said, pausing for the crowd’s laugh. He continued, “We’re going to be very cautious and very careful, and I think the legislation authorizes the process and the procedure whereby hopefully at some point in time that can be achieved.”

Part of the bill creates a summer study committee mandated to study an in-state growth and regulation model and report findings to the Legislature at the end of this year.

Peake is a supporter and eventually intends to file a bill that would legalize medical cannabis growth, distribution and manufacture in Georgia.