EDITORIAL: More questions to answer in the medicinal marijuana debate

A committee to study medicinal marijuana for the state Legislature started its work last week. Right now there are more questions than answers. Fortunately, there are 23 states that can provide guidance for one of the biggest questions. Since it is against federal law to transport the marijuana plants or the end-product across state lines, who in the state would be allowed to grow and produce it? Colorado has one model with 2,200 licenses for selling and growing compared to just five licenses to grow in Minnesota. What model would be best for Georgia?

That question is easy compared to whether narrowing or expanding the focus of the bill would be appropriate. Medicinal marijuana is said to help other maladies besides pediatric seizures -- from PTSD to AIDS to cancer. Every malady has its constituency and it may not be easy to narrow the bill’s focus.

However, lawmakers have to be careful. Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, proposed a bill last year, House Bill 885, that has the best chance of passing. But for House and Senate wrangling, his bill had enough support to pass. But that could quickly change if it is hijacked by an ever-expanding group of people who want medicinal marijuana for their own aches and pains or those who wish to see unrestricted access to marijuana. No one wants to see, as in California, pot shops on nearby corners, catering to people who supposedly have “prescriptions.”

For the record, Georgia is looking at a form of marijuana that does not contain the ingredient that creates drug-induced highs, but has properties that quell pediatric seizures. It is not smoked, rather it’s an oil-based substance. Committee members should attempt to answer a core question: Should medicinal marijuana be an option for licensed physicians to prescribe for their patients?

Georgia is well-suited for growing and processing marijuana with excellent schools of agriculture where adequate controls could be placed and records kept to assure quality. Doctors willing to conduct research could be allowed access to supplies for their patients for peer-reviewed studies.

The bottom line is simple. Can the drug save lives? In many cases, yes. Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. Surgeon General told the Providence Journal in 2004, “The evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS -- or by the harsh drugs sometimes used to treat them. And it can do so with remarkable safety. Indeed, marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day.”

Do children who face hundreds of seizures daily deserve a chance to live outside of the shadow of death? Will Georgia force more children and their families to move to another state? The committee has its work to do. January and the start of the 2015 session of the General Assembly will be here before we blink. Hopefully, all the questions can be answered and Peake’s bill should be one of the first to land on the governor’s desk waiting for his signature.