Medical cannabis bill clears House panel

A Georgia House panel passed a medical cannabis bill Monday that its author said could eventually help up to a half-million Georgians.

The revised House Bill 1, sponsored by state Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), would set up a process whereby patients with one of eight diagnoses, and a recommendation from a doctor, would register for cannabis oil use with the state Department of Public Health.

An individual, or that person’s caregiver, would be issued a registration card from Public Health that would allow them to possess the cannabis oil. (Possession would remain illegal for the general public.)

Miranda Sievert, 20, has seizures from epilepsy.
Miranda Sievert, 20, has seizures from epilepsy.

Peake said with the eight diagnoses – down from 17 in an earlier proposal – as many as 500,000 people in the state could be helped.

The eight diagnoses are cancer, ALS, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, fibromyalgia and Parkinson’s disease.

The House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee passed the bill unanimously, after approving an amendment that raised the legal limit of weight of THC in the oil to 5 percent from 3 percent. THC is the ingredient in marijuana that makes a person “high.”

House Bill 1 would require a relationship between a doctor and patient in order for the latter to legally possess the drug.

“It will vest that authority with the medical authorities,’’ said committee Chairman Rich Golick (R-Smyrna). “A physician will be the gatekeeper for this.”

The proposal, which now heads to the House floor, would also create a state commission on medical cannabis.

Rep. Allen Peake
Rep. Allen Peake

Peake, who has worked doggedly for the legislation for more than a year, emphasized the need for 17 Georgia families to move back to the state from Colorado, where marijuana products are legal.

One who has moved to Colorado is Miranda Sievert, 20, who has intractable seizures from epilepsy. Her father, Vince, of LaGrange, told GHN that his daughter has had a total of 26 seizures since November, when she began taking cannabis oil.

Previously, “she would have that many [seizures] in a day,’’ Sievert said.

But he added that even if the legislation passes, it will remain illegal to transport the oil from Colorado. “You can’t legally ship marijuana,’’ he said.

Peake acknowledged that the transporting of cannabis oil to Georgia is still an obstacle to be overcome, but that there are possible solutions that include a manufacturer shipping it into the state.

Earlier, Peake had discussed a broader bill that would have allowed some marijuana to be grown in Georgia for the purpose of manufacturing the oil. That would have avoided the problem of shipping the substance from elsewhere. But Peake backed off that provision in a compromise with Gov. Nathan Deal, who did not support cultivation of cannabis in the state.

The legislation has previously drawn objections from law enforcement officials.

In earlier testimony at the General Assembly, Frank Rotondo, executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, said the association was against the bill in its previous form because it would legalize cannabis oil for adults and not just children.

Similar objections were raised by the Georgia Sheriff’s Association. The association has come out against the bill, but says it won’t actively work to prevent passage of it, WABE reported.