Opinion Columns & Blogs

Ga. state government needs to clean up its medical marijuana mess in 2019

Former Rep. Allen Peake holds a vial of what cannabis oil looks like while appearing before the Georgia Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee in 2014.
Former Rep. Allen Peake holds a vial of what cannabis oil looks like while appearing before the Georgia Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee in 2014. bsanderlin@ajc.com

In just a few days we’ll all be welcoming in a new year, and a few weeks after that our state Legislature will convene to begin its 2019 session. When they do, fixing one of their most egregious past mistakes needs to be very high on their agenda

Low-THC cannabis oil, a non-narcotic drug derived from the marijuana plant that has been shown to be effective in relieving symptoms for a number of illnesses, has been legal for medical use in Georgia since 2015. With a doctor’s approval, state residents can apply to the government for a card that allows them to legally possess up to 20 ounces of the medicine for personal use.

So what’s the problem? Well, there’s a catch, and it’s a big one.

Although it is legal for Georgians to have and use cannabis oil if they have permission from their doctors and the government, it is illegal to produce or sell the oil within the state. So the only way to get it is to buy it in a state where it is legally manufactured and bring it home.

That alone makes acquiring this medicine unreasonably cumbersome, but it gets worse. It is illegal to order cannabis oil online, and it’s also against federal law to transport it across state lines. So even though it is legal to possess and use the medicine in Georgia, there is no legal way to obtain it.

And that is just plain ridiculous, and inexcusably incompetent lawmaking.

Put yourself in the shoes of one of the parents of children who get relief from having multiple seizures every day by using cannabis oil. Imagine that you were faced with the choice of either obeying the law and continuing to see your child suffer or effectively taking on the role of a “drug mule” and purchasing it out of state and bringing it back home to Georgia hoping you don’t get randomly pulled over and searched by the police.

Luckily there has been some relief for such parents. Recently retired state Rep. Allen Peake (the man who proposed and championed the legislation that legalized medical marijuana in the first place) has been running a charitable distribution program for the drug since shortly after it was legalized.

He obtains the oil from anonymous sources (not asking any questions about how it found its way into Georgia) and distributes doses for free to some of the sick people who have a need for it. Mr. Peake has been an angel of mercy for those who benefit from cannabis oil, and he plans to continue helping them as long as he can.

But he can only provide medicine for a few hundred patients, and thousands more have to break the law to obtain the drug for themselves or their children.

It’s a mess our state government has created, and it’s one they need to clean up this year. Apparently they’ve been held back from doing so to this point because of concerns that allowing the production of this drug in-state would somehow lead to increased production and use of more potent forms of marijuana. That concern can be easily addressed.

If the state can run its own gambling operation it could certainly create a new, self-financing government program to cultivate and process cannabis oil for medical use. If they prefer to let private citizens do the work for them they can treat it like alcohol and tobacco, allowing it to be produced and sold under strict supervision and only to people who present the proper identification.

If our government can find a way to allow us to legally gamble, drink alcohol, and smoke tobacco (things that could accurately be called vices that do much more harm than good to society) then surely it can come up with a sensible program to allow sick Georgians to acquire a medicine they need without having to break state or federal laws to do it.

Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at fergcolumn@hotmail.com.