Medical marijuana lives

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Critics and sufferers lamented when Gov. Deal sent a portion of Georgia’s medical marijuana bill back to a study group to figure out how to cultivate the plant here for its cannabis oil. The stripping of HB 1, they say, means another year-long delay in getting medical marijuana to citizens suffering from an assortment of maladies (although this year’s legislation still calls for decriminalization). But the bill’s sponsor declares that in-state cultivation remains alive and offers options for importing the medicine to Georgia this year. In our second column, a Stone Mountain man writes about his family’s exile to Colorado, where medical marijuana is accessible.

Hope remains for Georgians

By Allen Peake

Since last Friday, I have read headlines and social media posts that House Bill 1, the bill attempting to legalize medical cannabis in Georgia, had been gutted or was dead. Let me assure you, that is the furthest thing from the truth.

There were two main objectives to HB 1. First, to provide immediate immunity from prosecution for possession of cannabis oil, so that the 17 families who have moved to another state to obtain medical cannabis oil for their children could come home, and not fear arrest or having DFCS showing up at their door to take their child away. Second, to implement a comprehensive regulatory structure so medical cannabis can be cultivated, processed, and distributed in a safe, timely and effective manner in Georgia.

After intense discussions with Gov. Nathan Deal, the decision was made to delay the in-state growth model for a year for more study to make sure we get it right. So, the agreement was to set up a commission charged with making a recommendation by December to the governor and Legislature on the best model for dispensing medical cannabis in Georgia.

This commission will be made up of medical professionals, pharmacists, law enforcement officials, Department of Agriculture personnel, lab experts and members of the governor’s leadership team. I hope to be intimately involved in this commission as well. Obviously, there is no guarantee the General Assembly will move on the commission’s recommendations in 2016, but I am confident action will be taken to implement an in-state growth model very early in the 2016 legislative session.

The governor also agreed to support the passage of HB 1, which will include complete immunity for those possessing cannabis oil with less than 5 percent THC (the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant) and who have been diagnosed by a physician with certain medical conditions — including cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, ALS, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, sickle cell anemia, Tourette’s syndrome, muscle spasticity disorders, fibromyalgia and terminal illnesses.

All of these medical conditions have seen positive results from cannabis oil. This is the compassionate and right move for our state, to allow citizens in pain to make the personal decision with their physician to access cannabis oil that can ease their suffering.

There are clearly challenges to gaining access to cannabis oil, even with immunity in Georgia, because transporting cannabis across state lines is a violation of federal law. Many families and citizens fear being arrested. So we came up with four options for access to cannabis oil:

• We have had discussions with a cannabis oil manufacturer in a legal state that is prepared to ship cannabis oil so low in THC it is considered hemp. This strain has been used with amazing results by many families whose children suffer from seizures; they have seen reduced seizures, improved cognitive ability, and reduced use of FDA-approved drugs. I have been assured that if our immunity language passes, this manufacturer will begin shipping to Georgia immediately, allowing most of our medical refugees to come home and giving access to hundreds of Georgia children who suffer from seizures. This is a very real and viable option.

• Several neighboring states are very close to producing a strain of cannabis oil similar to the product being used in Colorado, which again will be considered hemp. Therefore, many families and citizens could legally obtain the oil from these states, drive back to Georgia, and have immunity once they are back inside our borders.

• We will ask Governor Deal to seek an exemption from the Drug Enforcement Administration and Justice Department to ship cannabis oil from another state to a state agency in Georgia to be distributed on a compassionate-need basis. This is similar to what officials in other states have requested, most recently Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York.

• Finally, it may be time for some civil disobedience — not by parents who need to be with their sick child, but by citizens like me. I am fully prepared to risk going to jail to get medicine for these children with seizure disorders. Maybe it will take someone like me getting arrested to show the lunacy of a federal law that allows me to be in possession of cannabis oil legally in Colorado and in Georgia, but be arrested because I am traveling with the oil through Kansas. Maybe that’s what it will take, and I’m willing to pursue this option, if the first three options fail to deliver for our citizens.

The fight for medical cannabis is Georgia is far from over, but we are moving in a very positive direction.

For more information:

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, is the sponsor of House Bill 1, Georgia’s medical marijuana bill.

Gov. Deal, end the suffering

By Sebastien Cotte

My family and I are medical refugees – Georgia residents currently living in Colorado. It is our sincere hope this move is temporary, as we believe Georgia is moving towards legalization of the cannabis oil that has given my four-year-old son the ability to smile for the first time in three years.

The headlines that Governor Deal is supporting HB 1 are encouraging, but the details that his support is limited to only decriminalizing possession of this oil unfortunately won’t bring most families like ours home.

Georgia failed to pass a medical marijuana law during the 2014 legislative session, which was a huge disappointment to many patients and families. Since then, more families made the difficult choice to leave their loved-ones, in many cases splitting up their families, and leaving behind friends and local support systems to move to a state where medical marijuana is legal. Caring for a child with medical problems is beyond exhausting and stressful, and moving halfway across the country adds an additional level of financial and emotional strain for the families that the Governor and the legislature have an opportunity to alleviate.

I have experienced this hardship first hand. My wife and I moved our son Jagger to Colorado to gain access to cannabis oil to control his severe pain and seizures resulting from terminal mitochondrial disease. Leaving Georgia was extremely difficult: there was a possibility Jagger wouldn’t survive the six day road-trip. However, we made it and are providing Jagger with life-saving cannabis oil which has significantly reduced his seizures and pain episodes.

Since starting on the oil, Jagger has also shown significant improvements in his cognitive abilities and for the first time in the past three years, he is smiling again.

While we are encouraged that Georgia lawmakers are finally recognizing the need to establish a medical marijuana law in Georgia, it is saddening to hear that Governor Deal and his office will not support in-state growing. Instead they are asking that families risk everything to obtain medical marijuana elsewhere breaking other states and federal laws.

So while families might be safe from prosecution in Georgia, they are not immune in other states if they decide to carry the product across state lines, and if caught in a state which does not have a medical marijuana bill, state or federal prison might be their next stop.

Prosecution protection is only a viable option for the short term (a few months) but expecting special needs families to go across the country every few weeks to purchase cannabis oil for over a year or perhaps longer is a tremendous burden that many families are unable to overcome emotionally and financially.

Additionally, many patients who would benefit from HB1 have weak immune systems and therefore it is essential that the cannabis oil they obtain is safe and clean. The best way to ensure the quality of the oil is to allow highly regulated and supervised in state growing with tight regulations of the growing and extracting facilities backed by third-party lab results. By delaying this part of HB1, families and patients are forced to obtain medical marijuana elsewhere where its origin may not be known and quality and safety of the product are not guaranteed.

Gov. Deal explains that his main goal is to bring Georgia families home but by taking in-state growing out of HB1, many families currently in Colorado aren’t coming home to Georgia. Families and patients are not willing to risk losing their “oil” supply after having seen so many positive results.

In order to bring Georgia families home, we must have in-state growing in Georgia in 2015. Telling families and patients that they will not be prosecuted if they come home but not providing life-saving cannabis oil in Georgia, may be well-intentioned, but once again it leaves families with little hope of helping their sick children. And it leaves adults suffering from debilitating illnesses little hope of finding relief.

Medical marijuana is not only a life-saving intervention, it provides a better quality of life for those who suffer every day. Gov. Deal, you have the opportunity to end the suffering of so many Georgians, adults and children alike, by providing high quality medical marijuana produced right here in Georgia. Please don’t let us down and let those affected suffer one more day.

Sebastien Cotte, his wife Annett and son Jagger lived in Stone Mountain before moving to Colorado.


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