Georgia’s New Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced
(APN) ATLANTA — The long anticipated medical marijuana, or medical cannabis, bill, HB 885, has finally been introduced, on January 28, 2014; and received a first read in the State House on January 31. It will eventually be assigned to the Health Committee.
The bill’s co-sponsors include State Reps. Allen Peake (R-Macon), Ben Watson (R-Savannah), Mickey Channell (R-Greenboro), Margaret Kaiser (D-Atlanta), Micah Gravley (R-Douglasville), and Tom McCall (R-Elberton).
It is more of a research bill for a few specific medical disorders rather than a comprehensive medical marijuana bill.
HB 885 adds seizures to the existing medical conditions of glaucoma and cancer patients, undergoing chemotherapy, who are eligible to receive medical cannabis for research purposes.
The bill will legalize cannabis oil that is high in cannabidiol (CBC) for medical use. CBC oil has proven successful in treating uncontrolled seizures and is very low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that gets one high.
The success of CBC in treating seizures received national attention in the CNN documentary WEED. As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, parents in Georgia, who had children with seizures, began calling their representatives and demanding help.
Some conservative, Christian Republicans had a change of heart after hearing stories from their constituents who have children suffering from seizures. The CBC oil works better than other medications for seizure disorders.
HB 885 reads, in part, as follows:
“WHEREAS, the General Assembly finds and declares that clinical research has shown certain benefits arising from the utilization of medical cannabis and, most recently, significant benefits of a particular strain delivered orally for the treatment of seizure disorders among children.
“WHEREAS, nothing in this legislation should be construed as encouraging or sanctioning the recreational use of cannabis, nor is this legislation to be construed as any intent of the General Assembly to be moving in the direction of the legalization of recreational cannabis.
“Article 5 of Chapter 34 of Title 43 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to the use of cannabis for treatment of cancer and glaucoma, is amended by revising the article as follows:
“Article 5. This article shall be known and may be cited as ‘Haleigh’s Hope Act.’ The program shall be limited to patients who are certified to the board by selected academic medical centers being: (1) Cancer patients involved in a life-threatening situation in which treatment by chemotherapy or radiology has produced severe side effects; or (2) Glaucoma patients who are not responding to conventional controlled substances; or (3) Seizure disorder patients,” the bill states.
The Haleigh’s Hope Act is named after Haleigh Cox who lives in Rep. Peake’s district. He learned about her story from a WSB-TV Channel 2 news report. She suffers from uncontrolled seizures and her family is considering moving out of state to receive the medical help their four year-old daughter’s needs.
“I think it’s caught fire because we’re seeing sick kids in Georgia who are suffering. If we can get the message out that this is not recreational marijuana – kids are not going to be be smoking pot. This is a medicinal oil form of cannabis” Rep. Gravley told the Douglas County Sentinel newspaper.
“We ain’t got time for a five-year study. The kids need it now,” Gravley said in the Sentinel.
And Haleigh is not the only one.
“Caden Clark, a 10-year-old who lives in the northern part of Gravley’s district in Paulding County, suffers from a severe seizure disorder,” the Sentinel reported.
Clark has been on seventeen different drugs for his seizures and had part of his brain removed in an effort to get relief from the seizures, Gravley told the Sentinel.
“Clark’s parents have moved him to Colorado where medicinal marijuana is legal. They recently reached out to Gravley asking for his support to get the cannabis oil legalized in Georgia,” the Sentinel reported.
Gravley told the Sentinel that State Rep. John Pezold (R-Fortson) is also in support of the bill, although he is not listed as a primary co-sponsor.
Rep. Mike Dugan (R-Carrollton) told the Sentinel he is open to the idea of medical cannabis.
Sen. Mike Crane (R-Newnan) and Rep. Randy Nix (R-LaGrange) told the Times-Georgian newspaper they are open to the idea.
As reported earlier by APN, a 1980 Georgia law already allowed medical cannabis to be used by people with cancer and glaucoma as part of a state research program.
“The 1980 bill was never implemented because they never staffed the medical board that was to oversee the implementation of the bill. There was a problem with sourcing. All the marijuana had to come from a federal facility that closed down shortly after the bill was passed,” Chad Brock, Legislative Counsel with American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, previously told APN.
Hospitals and physicians are taking notice and cautiously endorsing HB 885, as evident by a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) article.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta said it can support a plan by Rep. Peake, according to a statement released to the AJC.
Meanwhile, the Medical Association of Georgia, the state’s largest professional group of physicians, endorsed Peake’s plan last week.
“No one has ever died of a cannabis overdose. People have died from Aleve and Ibuprofen… patients [with chronic pain] can be weaned off their pharmaceutical narcotics with cannabis. All pharmaceuticals are metabolized by the liver and kidney, so they have some impact in the long run,” Dr. Uma V.A. Dhanabalan, MD, MPH, FAAFP, told APN.
Dr. Dhanabalan is founder of Global Health and Hygiene Solutions, LLC in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is licensed to practice medicine in Massachusetts and Washington state.
“There is a whole cannabinoid system and THC is one component of it but there are CBC, CBG, a whole array of different products that works specifically for different ailments,” Dr. Dhanabalan explained.
“The criteria for medical cannabis is not consistent from state to state and that is a big problem. One state may list anxiety and another state may list post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” Dr. Dhanabalan told APN.
“The first thing that needs to happen, on the federal level, is cannabis must be removed from Schedule One. Next thing that needs to happen is a consistent medical criteria must be set,” Dr. Dhanabalan said.
Recently even prominent national leaders in Washington, D.C., including President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Attorney General Eric Holder have made statements and sent signals that now is the time to reform federal laws that prevent the implementation of state medical cannabis laws.
“Cannabis in not an entrance drug – it is an exit drug from [pharmaceutical] narcotics,” Dr. Dhanabalan said.
Also, according to the AJC, HB 885 has about 90 co-sponsors, consisting of around half or more of the State House.