Medical Cannabis, Decriminalization Bills Advance in Georgia Legislature
(APN) ATLANTA — A total of three bills related to cannabis have advanced in the Georgia Legislature this year, including two bills related to medical cannabis and one bill that would reduce the criminal penalties for cannabis possession.
MEDICAL EXPANSION BILL ADVANCES OUT OF HOUSE COMMITTEE
A new cannabis oil bill, HB 65, filed by State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) in the 2017 General Assembly has the potential, if passed, to help more Georgians with medical conditions.
On Tuesday, February 21, 2017, State Rep. Peake presented HB 65 to the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Hearing and the committee heard testimony from advocates and experts.
On Monday, February 27, the Committee passed the bill favorably out of Committee on substitute, with the removal of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the bill.
The revised bill would still add seven new medical conditions to the eight conditions in HB1, which passed in 2015 and established the Low THC Oil Patient Registry in Georgia.
The new conditions are Tourette’s syndrome; Epidermolysis Bullosa (a rare skin condition), Intractable pain, Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), Alzheimer’s disease, peripheral neurotrophic, and autism spectrum disorder.
It removes the end stage qualifications that only people who are dying can receive the cannabis oil.
The bill does not change the THC limit of five percent that was approved two years ago.
Also, it removes the one-year residency requirement to live in Georgia before a person can qualify for cannabis oil.
At the request of physicians, the bill would change the quarterly reporting requirement to an annual reporting requirement, because they said t was overly regulatory and burdensome.
It allows patients in Hospice care to participate in the registry.
It adds reciprocity to other state’s medical cannabis card holders to use five percent THC cannabis oil while visiting in Georgia.
Dr. David Bradford, a public policy professor at the University of Georgia, affirmed that the National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine has conclusive evidence that marijuana is an effective medicine, in his testimony to the Committee.
Their research found that cannabis is an effective therapy for chronic pain, muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis, nausea, and sleep disorders.
Dr. Bradford and his co-research daughter, Ashley Bradford looked at all the data on all prescriptions filled by Medicare part D enrollees from 2010 to 2013.
Then they narrowed it down to only include conditions for which marijuana would serve as an alternative treatment anxiety, depression, glaucoma, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders and spasticity.
They wanted to know if you make cannabis available to patients to use as a medicine if it would change their use of other prescription medications, particularly opioids.
Dr. Bradford published the research finding “Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Prescription Medications Use in Medicare Part D” in the journal Health Affairs, July 2016.
They found a large reduction in the use of prescription drugs in areas where cannabis is an effective treatment, like in chronic pain management.
“If all states had a medical cannabis law, we could see over one billion reduction in state spending in Medicare Part D and mostly from pain medications,” Dr. Bradford told the hearing.
They found the same results in Medicaid.
“For Georgia that would be about a 13 million dollar saving per year in 2014, if we had a cannabis law… most of our spending on Medicaid is managed care or about 36 million if you extrapolate it to the total program,” Dr. Bradford explained.
“Nationally we had about 33 thousand prescription opioid deaths in 2015… the evidence suggests that cannabis laws can save lives,” Dr. Bradford concluded.
“We have an opioid epidemic and if we want to deal with it, we must pass reasonable medical cannabis legislation,” Rep. Peake said in the hearing.
“States that have access to medical cannabis have a decrease in the usage of opioids resulting in cost savings to the state’s in Medicaid and Medicare and a decrease in the abuse of opioids and lives lost,” Rep. Peake said.
SENATE BILL REDUCING THC LIMIT PASSES SENATE
Another bill, SB 16, filed by State Sens. Ben Watson (R-Savannah) and Renee Unterman (R-Buford) reduces the allowed THC in cannabis oil from 5 percent to 3 percent. It adds Autism spectrum disorder to the list of legally treatable conditions.
The problem with lowering the THC is, that the mothers and physicians who work with severe autism cases where the child is violent, and hurts others and themselves, report that it takes a larger dose of THC up to 15 percent to help calm these children.
This bill passed the Senate on 41 to 12 on February 16, 2017, with numerous Democrats joining Republicans in supporting this bill.
SENATE BILL REDUCING CANNABIS PENALTIES PASSES COMMITTEE
SB 105 filed by State Sen. Harold Jones (D-Augusta) reduces penalties for the possession of less than one-half ounce of marijuana from a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail and one thousand dollars fine to a fine not to exceed three hundred dollars.
This bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on yesterday, Tuesday, February 28, 2017.
If the weight of cannabis is one-half ounce up to two ounces, it would be punishable by imprisonment not to exceed twelve months and a fine not to exceed one thousand dollars or community service.
Possession of two ounces or more of cannabis would be a felony punished by one year and up to ten years in prison.