EDITORIAL: Medical refugees will soon be coming home

It’s been a two-session journey, and that long road may come to an end Friday if Gov. Nathan Deal signs Haleigh’s Hope Act into law. Officially, it’s House Bill 1, and it will allow Haleigh’s family and others around the state to come home. Haleigh and children like her suffer from hundreds of seizures a day. Each one could be their last. However, Haleigh’s family decided to sacrifice for their child. Haleigh and her mom, Janea Cox, moved to Colorado, where Haleigh could be treated with cannibidiol, a derivative of marijuana that has drastically cut Haleigh’s seizures. The stars must have aligned. HB 1’s passage in the Senate on Wednesday with only two dissenting votes marked a year ago this week that Haleigh and her mother moved to Colorado.

Last year’s session came to a disappointing end when the bill that could have helped Haleigh and others got caught not in a tangle of substance but politics. Unfortunately, passage of HB 1, didn’t come soon enough for 6-year-old Abe Hopkins, Abe and his parents, Mike and Kelli Hopkins, traveled to the Gold Dome last year to support Rep. Allen Peake’s medical marijuana efforts during the 2014 session. Abe died last July as a result of a seizure.

HB 1 requires people who use cannabidiol or their caregivers to have a doctor’s prescription and register with the Department of Public Health. Those persons can have in their possession up to 20 ounces of low THC without fear of prosecution. HB 1 impacts people with eight conditions: Cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, seizure disorders (brought on by epilepsy or head trauma), multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, Parkinson’s disease and sickle cell disease.

The legislation also establishes a Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis composed of 17 members who will establish possible regulations for medical cannabis. They are to report by the end of the year. The bill also authorizes the University of Georgia to establish a “low THC” research program that will decide the efficacy of medical marijuana.

This bill isn’t perfect -- no bill is. Sufferers of fibromyalgia and glaucoma, included in earlier versions of the legislation, were removed. There remains some risk for patients or their caregivers in getting the cannabidiol into the state because the substance can’t legally be grown in Georgia -- yet.

This idea had no chance without the guts, conviction and stick-to-itiveness of Rep. Peake. It’s hard to think of another legislator who would have taken the political risk to fight for such a proposal. It also hard to think of another lawmaker who could have built a foundation of support that could get such a measure passed, almost unanimously.