Medical marijuana in Georgia

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Many families with children suffering from seizures are desperate for Georgia to legalize the use of medical cannabis. The state representative leading the charge today updates his campaign to allow this relief for kids who could benefit from the drug. Sadly, some are dying while waiting for the state to act. In our second column, a faith-based activist writes that legislators and the FDA need to follow the process before approving something with possible aside effects and unwanted outcomes.

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Kids die as Georgia fiddles

By Allen Peake

As the clock approached midnight on March 20, the final night of the 2014 Georgia legislative session, it became apparent that a final vote to send a medical cannabis oil bill to the governor’s desk for his signature was not going to happen this year. I decided to avoid the usual “Sine Die” celebration in the House chamber because I knew I needed to be in the Senate gallery with the families that fought so courageously for this bill.

The mood was obviously somber among the parents, some of whom had brought their children with them, hoping to watch as history was made. The families were crushed and defeated that the Legislature had failed them and their children. And I shared their frustration.

The feeling of despair that evening was not from anger at the process failing. Instead, we were all aware of the terrifying thought that some of the children this very bill was intended to help would not make it until the start of the next legislative session in January 2015, when we could try again to legalize medical cannabis oil. A child, or maybe several, would die because they didn’t have access to a medicine that offered life-changing positive effects for children in states where it is legal.

Which one of these families would fall victim to the nightmare of every parent who has a child suffering from a seizure disorder – the one final seizure that takes their precious loved one from this earth? That was my fear that night.

Well, now we know. His name was Abe.

Abe was the six-year-old child of Mike and Kelli Hopkins of Covington. In July, he died as a result of a seizure.

His parents came to the Capitol last session to beg legislators to pass House Bill 885, the medical cannabis bill. They are some of the most courageous parents I have ever met. They have three special-needs kids and one healthy daughter. The Hopkins family didn’t have the option of moving to another state to obtain cannabis oil for Abe. The logistics, finances and travel challenges were too great. Therefore, they pinned their hopes on Georgia passing a bill that would allow them to give their child this life changing oil.

This strain of cannabis has elevated levels of CBD, is low in THC (the psychoactive component in marijuana) and has been drastically reducing seizures for kids in Colorado and other states where cannabis oil is legal. This particular cannabis oil cannot make a child “high.” CBD can only help reduce or even eliminate seizures. But the Hopkins couldn’t obtain this particular strain of cannabis in Georgia. So they worked to help pass the bill, and when it failed, they prayed Abe would not have that final, fatal seizure before next session in January.

Tragically, he did.

So now we are left to wonder: How many more children won’t make it until next year? How many more funerals will those fighting for this cause have to attend? How many more parents will have to bury their child as a result of a seizure?

The next several weeks, the Medical Cannabis Study Committee will be meeting all over the state to hear from families, law enforcement, the medical community and medical cannabis experts about why, and how, to draft legislation in 2015 to legalize medical cannabis in Georgia. You can find out more at the Facebook page, “Georgia Medical Cannabis Study Committee,” or call my office. We want to hear from citizens regarding this issue.

My colleagues — Democrat and Republican, black and white, liberal and conservative — support this legislation and are committed to passing a good bill that works in Georgia. This effort is about helping citizens in our state, giving hope to families and offering relief to those who are suffering. Many have taken bold stances to stand up and fight for this cause, and I couldn’t be more proud to stand with them.

House Speaker David Ralston has become a passionate supporter of finding a solution for Georgia families. The momentum is there; we just need the wisdom to find the right solution, one that really does work for Georgia. We owe that to our citizens.

We owe that to Mike and Kelli Hopkins. We owe that to Abe. To honor him, and the memory of his short life.

We. Cannot. Move. Fast. Enough.

State Rep. Allen Peake is a Republican from Macon.

Legislators should respect the process

By Virginia Galloway

No one in his right mind wants to see any child suffer. A very sick child is a tremendously emotional and powerful argument for doing absolutely anything to provide relief. The parents are battle weary, hoping for a miracle. Their friends, even acquaintances, desperately want to help. There is temptation to throw caution to the wind and do something, anything. That’s exactly why there is a process in place to make sure drugs are rigorously tested before they are approved for general use.

Georgia’s General Assembly needs to respect that process.

This year, a surge of bills pushing to legalize various forms of marijuana hit legislatures all over the country. In blue states, the push was for full legalization. Space doesn’t permit exploration of that folly — lower IQ, traffic accidents, rise in teenage use. In red states, it was for specific products and specific illnesses. “It’s safe.” “It’s necessary.” “It’s for the children,” supporters said.

In Georgia, Charlotte’s Web, a low-THC strain to be made into a cannabidiol oil, was hailed as the cure for children with seizures. That was the original bill. Next, it became a research-only bill, to allow clinical trials. Then, it became an unknown quantity of strains for anyone who has seizures who could “medically benefit.”

But there were practical problems. Do we grow marijuana here? There was discussion about research universities growing it, but they didn’t want to due to the potential loss of federal funds. So who will grow it in Georgia, since it’s against federal law to transport the substance across state lines? How will it be contained for the intended use?

Then, enforcement problems arise. Can drug dogs, officers or even the GBI crime lab tell the difference between legal oil and illegal strains? Since no arrest or conviction is required for civil forfeiture in Georgia, could someone potentially lose his or her car and other private property, including cash, for suspected possession of an illegal form?

How does this play out for the state Division of Family and Children Services? According to a CNN story this year, DFCS workers can take children from homes with any form of marijuana, even with a prescription, since the federal government still classifies it as a Schedule 1 substance.

Then, there was the matter of research deficiency. There was anecdotal evidence about Charlotte’s Web helping seizures, and there were a few decades-old studies on other strains — most containing more THC, the compound that causes the high. But there were no double-blind placebo studies in this century on this particular product.

In June, Dr. Christian Thurstone, a certified psychiatrist specializing in addiction, published an article exposing the dangers of Charlotte’s Web. He notes that even low levels of THC can cause more convulsions and brain damage, and that it has inconsistent quality. “Unfortunately, news reports and legislative hearings focus pretty much on success stories. Sadly, we hear very little about the dashed hopes of many families whose children are not responding,” he said.

The General Assembly didn’t pass the bill this year, but its backers are gearing up for another round. Georgians want to take care of sick children — but let’s respect the process and let the FDA do its job.

Virginia Galloway is regional field director for the Faith & Freedom Coalition.


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