Medical cannabis proposal nears the finish line

A two-year quest for medical cannabis in Georgia has a successful end in sight.

The state Senate passed legislation Tuesday to allow the use of medical marijuana for eight health conditions, after rejecting amendments that would have substantially changed or gutted the bill.

Rep. Allen Peake and Sen. Renee Unterman confer before the vote
Rep. Allen Peake and Sen. Renee Unterman confer before the vote

The House is expected to agree Wednesday to the version revised by the Senate, and if so, it goes to the governor for his signature.

“This is a great day,’’ said State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) with a whoop after the 48-6 Senate vote. Peake has been the main sponsor of House Bill 1. “We want to bring our medical refugees home.”

Peake was referring to Georgia parents who are living with their ailing children in Colorado to give the youngsters access to medical cannabis. Colorado’s relaxed marijuana laws have made it a magnet for families whose children need the treatment.

“There are many families living out of state,’’ Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) told the Senate chamber before the debate on the bill. “No man should be separated from his family’’ due to health reasons, he added.

Peake also noted medical cannabis would help adults with health conditions as well as children.

The measure establishes a process whereby patients with one of eight diagnoses, and a recommendation from a physician, 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.)

Peake told reporters after the Senate vote that he hoped that the state would have a registration process ready within 60 days.

The eight diagnoses in line for this treatment are cancer; ALS; seizure disorders related to epilepsy or trauma related head injuries; multiple sclerosis; Crohn’s disease; mitochondrial disease; Parkinson’s disease; and sickle-cell disease.

The Senate defeated an amendment that would have added autism to the list of diagnoses.

Also rejected were attempts to require FDA or federal approval of marijuana, and an amendment from Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome) that would have lowered the permissible THC content from 5 percent to 0.3 percent. THC is the ingredient in marijuana that makes a person “high.”

“I don’t see the science’’ for the 5 percent, Hufstetler said.

Sen. Butch Miller
Sen. Butch Miller

Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) responded that families requested the increase in THC level, noting that the bill covers adult patients. One amendment sponsored by Unterman —  a “hold harmless’’ clause for employers – was approved by the Senate.

“We have worked diligently’’ on the legislation, said Unterman, speaking of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, which she chairs. The panel revised House Bill 1 last week. “We feel like we have perfected this bill.”

Shannon Cloud, whose daughter Alaina has a seizure disorder and takes five medications, said after the vote that the legislation will allow parents to treat their children here without having to move to another state.

Peake said that until Georgia allows in-state cultivation of medical cannabis — which this bill does not authorize — such families will still face obstacles in using medical cannabis.

And he said he hoped the state commission formed under the legislation would add fibromyalgia to the list of diagnoses approved for treatment. The health condition was dropped by the Senate panel last week.