Although the odds of Georgia expanding its cannabis oil possession law to include a cultivation and distribution system that allows patients to get their hands on medicine without running afoul with the federal government were slim to none at the turn of the New Year, a recent boost from one of the state’s legislative gatekeepers suggests a proposal aimed at giving medical marijuana patients statewide access could have a fighting chance in 2016.
Calling it “the next step,” Georgia House Speaker David Ralston announced his support last week for a bill submitted by Representative Allen Peake, which aims to expand on last year’s ultra-restrictive Haleigh’s Hope Act by establishing a system that would permit a handful of cannabis producers to set up shop across the state and provide pot products to those suffering from a small list of qualified conditions.
By the time Peake’s attempt at legalizing medical marijuana for the seriously ill crawled out of the state legislature last year, it was barely breathing from the tremendous political bloodletting it endured in order to prevent from being buried out behind the Georgia State Capitol. Governor Nathan Deal simply refused to allow Haleigh’s Hope to exist with provisions that allowed medical marijuana to be cultivated in Georgia, so the bill was revised to essentially give patients permission to posses a specific amount of cannabis oil without fear of prosecution by the state.
However, the only way the law would allow this medicine to be obtained is by forcing patients to smuggle it in from a legal state, opening participants up to federal drug trafficking charges for crossing state lines with a Schedule I controlled substance in tow.
This is the conundrum Peake hopes to eliminate in 2016. The lawmaker’s current proposal – House Bill 722 – would establish a cultivation and distribution system in Georgia that would allow cannabis oil products to be produced and sold by up to six manufactures. Comparable to similar measures implemented throughout the nation, the law would put into place a seed to sale tracking system for hawkeyed law enforcement and put dispensing in the hands of trained pharmacists.
Perhaps one of the most crucial aspects of Peake’s latest proposal is that it would do away with the state’s current standard on cannabis oil by eliminating the restrictions on THC content – allowing patients to purchase maximum strength cannabis instead of only oils containing no more than 5 percent of the psychoactive compound.
The bill would also give physicians the right to recommend the herb based on the need of the patient.
As far as delivery methods, patients would be allowed to consume cannabis oil by way of a vaporizer, but state law would still prohibit smoking a joint.
As it stands, the Haleigh’s Hope Act only allows patients with seizure disorders, cancer, sickle cell anemia, Crohn’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, mitochondrial disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s to obtain a medical marijuana card from the state authorizing them to possess cannabis oil. Yet, the proposed update to the law would add several more qualified conditions, including AIDS, Alzheimer’s, Epidermolysis, Tourette’s, and intractable pain.
Unfortunately, Governor Nathan Deal, who worries that cannabis production in Georgia would lead to an uprising of chaos in the streets, continues to stand in support of local law enforcement instead of 84 percent of the state voters who have expressed their support for this legislation. Although Peake says he will show the governor that the new bill is “the right logical step,” it was this lawmaker’ shoddy negotiation skills that ultimately forced patients throughout the state into a life of crime for modest relief.
Nevertheless, the proposal is slated to begin its journey later this week, as the state’s legislative session gets underway. If it manages to pass, patients are expected to have access to medical marijuana by the summer of 2017.