Politics & Government

Ga. Rep. Allen Peake from Macon files medical cannabis grow bill

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, filed a bill at the state Capitol in Atlanta on Jan. 6 that, if approved, would allow medical cannabis cultivation by a handful of growers in Georgia.
State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, filed a bill at the state Capitol in Atlanta on Jan. 6 that, if approved, would allow medical cannabis cultivation by a handful of growers in Georgia. mlee@macon.com

ATLANTA -- The author of Georgia's medical marijuana law, state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, is starting the year by filing a bill he hopes will win over the skeptics of planting medical cannabis in Georgia.

Peake wants the state to issue up to six licenses for medical cannabis cultivators in Georgia. His bill also would open medical cannabis use to many more Georgians. People who have any one of 17 diagnoses -- including post-traumatic stress disorder, intractable pain, HIV and AIDS -- would be eligible for Georgia-made cannabis liquids or pills.

Wednesday morning, Peake filed House Bill 722, a 24-page bill that details the proposal. He's aiming to expand on his 2015 law that allows possession of certain liquid cannabis for patients who join the state medical marijuana registry and have one of eight diagnoses.

A total of 465 patients had signed up to the registry by the end of last year, Peake said.

Now, those patients must get their drug from a state that allows cultivation, but Peake said that's a burden on seriously ill people. Besides, it's dicey legal territory. The federal government has backed off from enforcing its marijuana ban where states have allowed tight medical marijuana programs, but it has also told states to keep their cannabis within their own borders.

Peake's bill is modeled on Minnesota's medical marijuana law. In Minnesota, greenhouses have tighter security than even casinos, Peake said.

In that state, growers are supposed to track every cannabis seed, plant and bottle of medicine. Peake, who wants the same in Georgia, hopes that will satisfy his toughest critics: law enforcement.

During this past summer's hearings on medical cannabis, the director of the GBI as well as some sheriffs and district attorneys testified that they thought growing medical marijuana in the state was a bad idea. One of their worries is that some growers might try to use medicine as a cover to grow or sell illegal recreational marijuana.

But Peake thinks it's possible and appropriate to draw a strong wall around medicinal cannabis. He wants to make sure law enforcement can track what goes on inside the proposed greenhouses.

"They're only going to have to go to a handful of places anywhere in the state to inspect a facility," said Peake. "Anybody else growing marijuana in the state is going to get thrown in jail."

Peake has supported growing marijuana in Georgia for medical purposes since 2014, but so far he has failed to persuade law enforcement and a skeptical Gov. Nathan Deal to agree with him.

Deal has said he cannot support the in-state growing of cannabis because he is not convinced Georgia can control it.

GBI Director Vernon Keenan has said he cannot support an idea that conflicts with the marijuana ban on the federal books. He has also said future leaders in Washington, D.C., could decide at any time to start cracking down on growers regardless of state laws.

Two other representatives signed Peake's bill as he filed it. He is working on getting more signatures by the time the legislative session opens Monday.

One of the co-signers, state Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, said he knows law enforcement has a lot of misgivings about the bill.

"I think that a lot of people think that we're going to authorize the whole world to start growing cannabis in their garden plots or their poultry houses or wherever," Powell said. "We're not."

Powell said the proposal is tight and is about medicine, not recreational use.

"I've always thought to myself that if you have a substance that God puts natural on this earth that can help people that are sick with chronic disease and such, its got to be better than these compounded drugs like Oxycontin," Powell said.

The bill also aims to put more of the decisions about medical marijuana in the hands of the Georgia Department of Public Health, with its staff of medical professionals, rather than leaving medical questions to the state Legislature.

The department would have the power to add diagnoses to the cannabis-eligible list and authorize different forms of medicine besides liquids and pills.

The Legislature, however, could always override the department's decision.

To contact writer Maggie Lee, e-mail mlee@macon.com.

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