Politics & Government

Push to allow growing medical marijuana in Georgia is dead

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, stands with supporters at the state Capitol on Feb. 16.
State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, stands with supporters at the state Capitol on Feb. 16. mlee@macon.com

ATLANTA -- Cultivating medical marijuana in Georgia is off the table this year, the Macon lawmaker who has been pushing for it said Monday.

"I'm very disappointed that cultivation of medical cannabis will not be included in the substitute for House Bill 722," said state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon.

His original House Bill 722 would have licensed up to six companies to grow cannabis and sell liquid products to people on the Georgia's medical cannabis registry.

A new version tailored to get the approval of his colleagues opens the registry to more Georgians but doesn't allow for growing it in the state.

"That was the heart of the bill," Peake told the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee during the hearing for the new version of his bill Monday afternoon.

"I feel like cast of 'The Walking Dead,'" Peake told the committee. "I must look like I've been disemboweled here."

But state Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, chairman of the committee, also has been working on the new draft and said the bill is something that he thinks can get the approval of the state Senate and the governor.

"In this building, politics is the art of the possible," said Golick, speaking to his committee meeting in the basement of the state Capitol.

Golick said he knows the bill will be a disappointment to some people, but he thinks everyone wants to help more Georgians, so it would be worse to get no bill this year.

Under the shortened bill, people with several new diagnoses including autism, HIV and AIDS would be able to sign up for the state's medical cannabis registry with a doctor's recommendation.

Joining that registry entitles Georgians to possess up to 20 fluid ounces of low-THC medical cannabis. The THC cap, now at 5 percent, may be changed in the coming days ahead of a committee vote as early as this week.

Peake is pushing for the ability to grow medical cannabis in the state because there is no way for Georgia patients to buy that medical cannabis in the state. Federal law bans carrying the liquid over state lines, though some patients break the law to do so. Some companies ship some products over state lines, but that's a legal gray area at best, experts have said.

"This issue of cultivation ... is not going to go away," Peake said.

Peake said if he is re-elected this year, he will return to the issue in next year's legislative session.

Gov. Nathan Deal's office had no comment on the new version of the bill. Deal generally does not comment on pending legislation.

In earlier hearings, supporters and critics battled over whether the bill's potential good could outweigh its potential harm.

Patients, or their parents, testified about the benefits they get or hope to get from cannabis products. So far, Georgia allows possession of a liquid derived from cannabis that patients with epilepsy, cancer and other diagnoses use to relive symptoms such as seizures and pain.

But sheriffs, prosecutors and some critical lawmakers argued that allowing Georgia cultivation could cause problems, such as cover for an illicit industry. They also feared that passage could start the state down a slippery slope toward access on bogus medical grounds.

Deal has said he thinks there is not enough demand in Georgia for medical cannabis to support an industry and that the state could not adequately control medical cannabis products.

A total 23 states allow medical cannabis cultivation either in homes or by professional growers.

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