ATLANTA – The fast-moving push to have medical marijuana legalized in Georgia for certain patients passed another major hurdle Wednesday afternoon, but with major changes that could put it in danger.
Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has had trouble finding a legal source for the cannabis oil derived from the plant. The first version of his HB 885 would have allowed the universities to produce the oil, but under federal law, that is not possible. Marijuana cannot be imported into Georgia by federal law and it can't be legally grown here under state law.
Peake changed the bill to try and have non-profit clinics set up as dispensaries, but that also proved impossible. The latest version of his bill would require parents of children who suffer seizures to obtain the cannabis oil from out of state sources on their own, which could be legally risky for the parents.
Peake's amended bill would simply decriminalize it once they get it here, which means they couldn't be prosecuted for possessing it in Georgia.
But the big sticking point at Wednesday's Senate Health Committee hearing came from the Chair, Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Gwinnett County). She insisted that her SB 397, an autism insurance bill, be included in the medical marijuana bill. Her bill, which would provide insurance coverage for autistic children up to age 6, passed the Senate overwhelmingly, but the House has refused to consider it. Now that her bill is attached to the medical marijuana bill, it could face stiff resistance in the House.
Medical marijuana bill sponsor Peake said he was happy that the bill is still alive in whatever form and will continue to fight to have it passed.
Janea Cox is hoping that the vote will one day lead to her 4-year-old daughter Haleigh getting treatment for her seizures. Her family is moving to Colorado so Haleigh can get the medicine. Cox told the committee that it's a matter of life and death.
"Haleigh doesn't have much longer," Cox said. "My child's dying from seizure medications, so we have to get this medicine. Haleigh has no other options at this point."
Cox is moving to Colorado with Haleigh on Thursday in order to begin treating her with medical marijuana. Cox is hoping the Georgia bill becomes law soon so they can move back to Georgia and the rest of their family.
Cox said that she was okay with the amended version of the bill that made it through the committee, which would require parents to obtain the cannabis oil from states where it is legal, such as Colorado, and smuggle it across state lines into Georgia, where possession of medical cannabis would be decriminalized.
"The parents can make the decision whether they want to bring it over state lines or not," Cox said. "I think that's the best way to do it because we're all on our last resort, and we need the option to be able to try it. And if that's the way it needs to be, that's what we're going to do."
The merged bill will now go to full Senate for a vote, but not before next Tuesday, March 18. With only two days left after that before the legislature adjourns for the year, the Senate and House will be short of time to work out their differences over the bill.