Marijuana: how far should Georgia go?

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

I met U.S. Army veteran Perry Parks, today’s lead columnist, at a joint legislative subcommittee hearing on medical cannabis last summer in Macon, where he spoke poignantly on the benefits of marijuana in the treatment of his service-related injuries. He supports the legalization of the plant in Georgia and his state, North Carolina, as a way to treat veterans. On the other side of the argument, two law enforcement groups voice opposition to Georgia’s medical marijuana bill as currently written, suggesting it be limited to children with seizure-related maladies.

Army vet makes case for cannabis

By Perry Parks

In 2003, at age 60, I retired from the Army after 29 years of service. This included 30 months of flying helicopters in Vietnam and a 15-month stint in Korea.

Previously, in the early 1990s, I had been referred to a psychologist and, subsequently, to a psychiatrist who diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. At that time, I was also being treated at Duke University Pain Clinic in Chapel Hill for chronic pain (degenerative disc disease); it was aggravated by a service-related injury I received during hurricane-recovery deployment with the National Guard in North Carolina.

My treatment consisted of periodic injections, numerous COX 2 inhibitors and occasional narcotics. Treatment made the pain tolerable, but the treatment for PTSD led to sleeping pills, Paroxetine for nerves, opiates and 10 years of counseling.

After retiring, I was told by friends and other veterans that cannabis was their choice of treatment. I was supplied with a joint to try. Skeptical at first, but willing to try anything to escape the memories (80 percent of returning vets from the Middle East report problems sleeping), I tried it. To my surprise, I began to see an improvement in my pain, from a level of about 1 to 3 to total pain relief.

That alone was uplifting, but there was more: The anxiety that had me on Ambien for over 10 years was mostly gone — and so was the prescription to Ambien to which I had become habituated at the least, if not addicted.

With these unexpected improvements, I began searching for information. I was fortunate to find Patients Out of Time, an organization that provides continuing education for health care professionals in the 23 states that have legalized the medical use of cannabis. At the first conference in Rhode Island, I was shocked at the level of legitimate research supporting the medical use of cannabis. The evidence presented was eye-opening and almost unbelievable, except it was presented by doctors with impeccable credentials.

Among these doctors was Dr. Raphael Mechoulam from Hebrew University in Israel. He spoke of the incredible progress with Israeli soldiers suffering from traumatic brain injuries. We currently have over 260,000 vets with diagnosed brain injuries.

How in God’s name can we know that something is helpful, and yet deny it to the same veterans we tell daily, “Thanks for your service”?

Since then, I have attended three conferences. The latest details the wonderful results from cannabis treatments in both mental and physical problems suffered by the vets. What’s more, the last event in Oregon was entitled, “Age-Related Illnesses and Cannabis.” Who among us is not aging?

I’m not a doctor, and I can only attest to the incredible results for myself. CBD oil does not work for me, but smoking cannabis does. As a Christian committed to searching for truth, I am bound to tell what I know to be true in my own case.

As a veteran, please don’t just thank me for my service. Please consider the scientific evidence before denying me the right to treat my PTSD and chronic pain with cannabis. Allow me the option of treating my wounds with what works best for me. Is that too much to ask?

Perry Parks, who lives in Rockingham, N.C. , has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and two Bronze Stars, among other honors.

Police chiefs oppose HB 1

By Frank V. Rotondo

The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, with a collective membership of over 1,200 chief executives and command staff of law enforcement agencies throughout the state, opposes House Bill 1.

While we are sympathetic to the concerns and admire the compassion expressed by the bill’s chief sponsor, state Rep. Allen Peake, we believe adoption of this legislation is bad public policy, would be contrary to the views of the vast majority of the scientific and medical communities, and would violate federal law and undermine public confidence in the law.

The Food and Drug Administration has classified marijuana and all products, including cannabinoid oil, as Class I controlled substances. Drugs included in this classification are those the FDA has determined to be inherently dangerous, have no currently accepted medical efficacy, lack accepted safety under medical supervision, and have high potential for abuse.

To date, there have been no scientifically validated studies indicating the use of such substances provides improvement in any medical condition that is sufficient to justify the known risks, which include psychosis. The FDA and the medical-scientific establishment continue to recognize all forms of marijuana as inherently dangerous substances.

The suggestion that the Department of Justice’s “Cole Memorandum” indicates the federal government has approved the use of medical marijuana is false and misleading. The department has no authority to “legalize” that which statutes, passed by Congress and signed into law by the chief executive, have prohibited.

The Cole Memorandum does not purport to “legalize” or even “turn a blind eye” to the enforcement of federal drug statutes applicable to marijuana. Rather, it only defines the Justice Department’s prosecutorial priorities and defers enforcement of prohibitions against the use of “medical marijuana” to the states. It grants no immunity to any person possessing, selling, distributing, transporting or cultivating marijuana for any purpose.

Moreover, Justice’s enforcement priorities are likely to change with the confirmation of a new attorney general. The leading candidate, Loretta Lynch, has testified it would be her policy “to continue enforcing the marijuana laws. … As I have noted in cases in my own district, (marijauana use) brings with it not only organized crime activity, but great levels of violence.” Hence, reliance upon the Cole Memorandum is likely to lead to confrontations with federal drug enforcement officials in the future.

When the popularly named “Haleigh’s Hope” bill was first introduced in the Georgia Legislature, it applied to a very limited and narrow set of medical conditions. HB 1 has metastasized from its initial draft, more narrow in scope, to cover a far broader expanse of medical conditions for which there is no scientific basis to suggest cannabinoids may be effective treatments.

In this respect, Georgia’s legislation could be following the path traveled by other states such as Colorado, leading inevitably to the wholesale legalization of all uses, including recreational, of marijuana. It should be noted that after living under its recently enacted laws, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper called his state’s enactment of marijuana statutes “reckless.”

The compassion elicited by the sight of children afflicted with various neurological conditions causing uncontrollable seizures are admirable and heart-wrenching; these sights naturally trigger sympathetic emotions in any observer. However, emotion or good intentions cannot forego or ignore reputable medical scientific research or the costly experiences in the erosion of the social fabric of other states.

Legalizing the use of marijuana in any form sends a dangerous and misleading message to the citizens of Georgia — that they may pick and choose which laws they will observe or violate without adverse consequence, inviting disrespect for all laws and resulting in chaos.

GACP agrees with the American Psychiatric Association that “medical treatment should be evidence-based and determined by professional standards of care; it should not be authorized by ballot initiatives.” Before the Legislature adopts any position on this law, let it fund a comprehensive study that incorporates scientifically valid research regarding medicinal marijuana, mindful of the societal consequences of such legislation.

Frank V. Rotondo is executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police.

Legalize oil only for children

By Wiley Griffin

The sheriffs of Georgia have made it clear they will aggressively oppose legislation that legalizes marijuana for recreational, religious or other social purposes. Further, they oppose the cultivation of marijuana in Georgia for any reason, including marijuana grown for medical purposes.

The ongoing legislative discussion resulting from House Bill 1 about legalizing cannabis oil for the treatment of a wide variety of medical conditions remains quite perplexing to the sheriffs. It is their belief decisions of this nature must first be reached by the Federal Drug Administration after appropriate study by the medical research community. To the sheriffs, it is ill-advised to proceed otherwise, as this is a the discussion best led by our trusted medical community.

Notwithstanding this strong feeling to the contrary, last year, Georgia’s sheriffs heard the pleas of families with children suffering seizure disorders and supported House Bill 885, which allowed for the limited use of very low-THC cannabis oil for these children upon the recommendation of a physician.

It is the opinion of Georgia Sheriffs’ Association members that this year’s House Bill 1 simply goes too far by dramatically expanding the number and types of medical conditions upon which cannabis oil with a much higher THC content can be possessed. To qualify for this much higher THC-content oil, one simply needs a physician’s diagnosis of one of the more-than 17 listed illnesses or disorders, which includes maladies as common as muscle spasms.

Under the bill, physicians are not required to prescribe or even recommend the oil; they would simply render a diagnosis that would then allow a person to obtain and possess the oil with immunity from prosecution. The bill provides no mechanism for inspection of the oil for content or purity by any agency, nor does it establish limitations on the amount of oil that can be possessed. Omissions such as these will most assuredly result in a plethora of unintended consequences and make enforcement efforts extremely difficult.

It has been well-established in Georgia law that the office of sheriff has a duty to protect the public. Sheriffs have a unique responsibility to speak to issues that, in their opinion, make Georgians less safe. The sheriffs fear expanding the number of medical conditions and symptoms beyond the original proposal for the treatment of seizure disorders in children, along with the use of higher-THC-content marijuana oil as provided for under House Bill 1, will eventually lead to commonplace usage of the oil for abusive non-medicinal purposes.

Wylie Griffin is sheriff of Decatur County and president of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association.

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