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Tide May be Turning on Medical Cannabis in Georgia Legislature (UPDATE 1)
(APN) ATLANTA -- The tide appears to be turning in Georgia with regard to the issue of medical cannabis, or marijuana, after two leading Republican lawmakers in the State Legislature expressed their openness to the idea of legalizing cannabis for medical purposes in Georgia.
As first reported by WSB-TV Channel 2, on January 07, 2014, Republican State Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) called for hearings on medical marijuana; then, on January 09, House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) told Channel 2 he would be open to the idea.
"I have some concerns about it quite frankly but I think, let's take the politics out of it, and look at the science and hear the medical professionals,” Ralston said.
Sen. McKoon has pointed to a 1980 Georgia law that allows medical marijuana to be used by people with cancer and glaucoma as part of a state research program. It was signed into law by Gov. George Busbee but has laid dormant for over thirty years.
"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, told Atlanta Progressive News.
"It is our hope that with a few simple tweaks, we can amend and resurrect the law that is currently on the books," Brock said.
James Bell, Director of the Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform & Education (Georgia CARE); and members of other groups have been meeting with State officials about the issue, seeking advice on how to proceed and offering information on the topic.
"There is interest in forming a study committee to examine the issue. A lot of very important legislation, including criminal justice reform, started by forming a study committee," Brock said. "We are optimistic, but we know it will be a hard and long fight."
Cannabis has dominated national news lately, with Colorado taking in one million dollars the first day cannabis was sold legally in that state on January 01, 2014. It's becoming the hottest topic in the U.S. One cannot turn on the television without seeing documentaries, news stories, and TV personalities talking about it.
"We need to find the facts about medical marijuana and put it in front of legislators, so they can make decisions on facts not scare tactics, fears, misinformation, and emotions," Bell told APN.
APN's decision to ask political candidates about their positions on medical cannabis over the last several years provided activists with a key resource that they have used to their advantage.
"APN did a story a few years ago, and listed some legislators who were interested in medical marijuana. I actually took your list and started with that. Now we have a hot list of fifteen legislators who have shown interest in studying medical marijuana," Bell said.
State Reps. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta), Margaret Kaiser (D-Atlanta), and Rep. “Able” Mable Thomas (D-Atlanta) have each committed during candidate interviews or questionnaires with APN their support for medical cannabis.
"We have support from people who are on the right, left, and middle. It affects so many people with medical and criminal justice issues," Bell said.
Georgia CARE and other reform organizations are preparing to make their presence known at the State Capitol and are planning the Second Annual Cannabis Awareness Day at the Gold Dome.
"We have been educating the public for about two years. We held our first meeting of the year Tuesday at Manuel's Tavern. We had 54 people in attendance," Sharon Ravert, Executive Director with Peachtree NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), told APN.
That first meeting was during the Arctic Plunge with temperatures around zero degrees, and a wind chill of negative fifteen degrees in Atlanta. People came from around the state. The room was too small to hold all the people and they plan to have a larger room next month.
"We had activist training this month. Next month we are going to have speakers come from different groups and some legislators. We will be holding monthly meetings the first Tuesday of every month at Manuel’s Tavern from 7pm to 9pm," Ravert said.
"We are optimistic that people in Georgia are opening up their eyes and realizing that the laws are more harmful to our citizens than marijuana," Ravert said.
As reported earlier in APN, the U.S. has less than five percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world's incarcerated population. The U.S. locks up a higher percentage of its population than any democratic society in history.
Peachtree NORML and Georgia NORML have been conducting a poll of Georgia voters views on medical marijuana. The results of that poll are expected soon.
According to national opinion polls, cannabis legalization has grown to be a popular issue.
Twenty states and the District of Columbia have enacted medical cannabis laws and many others states are now considering it. The twenty states include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated the forthcoming poll was being conducted by Georgia CARE; however, the poll is being conducted by Georgia NORML and Peachtree NORML.
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