GA: ‘Next Step’ For Medical Marijuana

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A coalition of Republican state representatives wants to let voters settle the stalemate on medical marijuana in Georgia.

Possession of low THC oil with a prescription has been legal since 2015, but it can’t be manufactured or bought in the state and it’s against federal law to bring it across state lines.

House Resolution 36 — sponsored by Rep. Alan Peake, R-Macon, and four other GOP leaders — would set up a statewide vote on regulating the production and sale of medical cannabis. Because it would be a constitutional amendment, it requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the Georgia General Assembly to make it on the ballot.

The measure is awaiting a hearing in the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.

Meanwhile, Peake, who chairs the Medical Cannabis Working Group, is also trying to move his House Bill 645, submitted at the close of last year’s session.

The measure would allow the Georgia Department of Public Health to license up to 10 medical marijuana dispensaries and two facilities to produce the low-THC oil.

‘Time is passing’

Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, is a member of Peake’s working group, which voted last month to support HB  645, but she wasn’t optimistic about its chances Friday.

“It’s got a ways to go,” she said.

Dempsey said the best solution for Georgia, and the 30 other states where medical marijuana is legal, is for Congress to step in and allow transportation across state lines. That would preclude the need for multiple regulated dispensaries and growing operations, and encourage more clinical trials, she said.

“I think there will be a great deal of discussion about it, but time is passing so fast,” Dempsey said. “We’re already halfway to Crossover Day … and some things just get caught in the crosshairs.”

Crossover Day, which is Feb. 28 this year, is the deadline for legislation to pass from one chamber to the other.

Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, is a deputy whip — one of a cadre of representatives charged with rounding up votes for key legislation. He also said a change to federal law would be the best-case scenario but noted that there’s no sign on the horizon.

“This (HB 645) is the next step if we’re going to provide a way for those with a legitimate need to have access,” he said. “It’s the only solution I’ve heard that would accomplish that.”

Lumsden said Friday that he’s unaware of a concentrated push to pass either of Peake’s proposals, but he’s not counting them out.

“I don’t know what would happen in the Senate, but in the House we have been supportive of getting the oil to people with a legitimate need,” he said.

Floyd County businessman Harley Gambrell — whose autistic son is prescribed low THC oil but cannot legally acquire it — has called Georgia’s medical marijuana law “an empty promise” so far.

The General Assembly approved use of the oil in 2015 to treat eight conditions and, last year, added another six plus patients in hospice care. The oil does not get people high.

A state registry tracking prescriptions showed more than half went to patients controlling seizures or dealing with end-stage cancer, according to testimony in December by Donna Moore, director of the Georgia Public Health Vital Records Department that oversees the program.

Other conditions authorized for treatment under state law are severe or end-stage multiple sclerosis, peripheral neuropathy, Crohn’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, mitochondrial disease, Parkinson’s disease, sickle cell disease, Tourette’s syndrome, autism, epidermolysis bullosa, Alzheimer’s disease and AIDS.