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Georgia Medical Cannabis Bill Amended, Heads to House Floor
Photograph by Gloria Tatum. With additional reporting by Matthew Charles Cardinale.
(APN) ATLANTA -- On Wednesday, February 26, 2014, the Health and Human Services Committee of the Georgia House of Representatives unanimously passed HB 885, the medical cannabidiol oil bill, called Haleigh's Hope. Cannabidiol oil is derived from cannabis, or marijuana.
The bill now heads to the full House floor for a vote. If it passes the House and Senate and is signed by the Governor, Georgia will be the first state in the U.S. South considered to have a medical cannabis law [a law on the books for around thirty years in Georgia has not been implemented and does not count; presumably this law will be implemented]. North Carolina and Mississippi have removed the possibility of jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana, or cannabis.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, the Committee previously heard the bill, but the bill had faced an obstacle regarding the issue of where to get cannabis in order to produce the oil for research purposes.
However, at the urging of activists like James Bell of Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform, and Education (CARE), the Committee revised the bill to allow for academic research centers in Georgia to grow the cannabis required to conduct the medical research.
State Rep. Alan Peake (R-Macon) passionately championed the bill, but Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) worried that they were passing a law that could not be enacted and that is giving families false hope.
"I want to thank the lawmakers who opened their hearts and saw the human side of this story. We knew this was going to be a miracle, this was the last day it could have passed. This means to get these kids a better quality of life. My daughter is on four seizure medicines that are killing her. I want to get her off the seizure medications and give her a better quality of life where she can smile and talk again," Janea Cox, mother of Haleigh, said, after the bill passed out of Committee.
"The intent of this bill is to find the best way for families in Georgia to interact with their physicians to access the cannabidiol oil that is high in CBD and low in THC with the exact composition as Charlotte's Web," Rep. Peake told the Committee.
Charlotte's Web is the cannabidiol oil in Colorado that has proven very successful in controlling seizures. It is against federal law to transport the oil across state lines. This creates an access problem of how to get medical cannabis into Georgia.
To remedy the access problem a cultivation option was added to the bill. It would permit an approved Georgia academic medical center like Georgia Regents, Emory, Mercer, or Morehouse to monitor the controlled substance research. The universities would not be obliged to do medical cannabis research, but they would have that option.
"There is such a demand for the cannabidiol oil that I think there will be changes on the federal level," Rep. Peake said.
Cannabis is currently labeled by the federal government as a dangerous Schedule One narcotic along with heroin. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s classification does not reflect today's extensive body of medical cannabis research. This is not only hurting people with medical problems, but is destroying the lives of people who are in prison for possession of something less harmful than alcohol or tobacco.
"The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has to approve a drug for human use and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) follows the recommendation of the FDA to change the rules," Richard Allen, Director of the Drugs and Narcotics Agency of Georgia, told APN.
It is the FDA that needs to change cannabis classification from a Schedule One to a lower classification to ensure states have the ability to conduct cannabis research without breaking federal laws. Director Allen was an expert witness at the Committee hearing.
"Many of the medicines that have been approved by the FDA have more side effects than the cannabis oil. The current medicines that one child is on, and has been FDA approved, causes liver damage, kidney failure, and fatal rashes," Rep. Peake told the Committee.
The question came up about universities losing federal and other research funding, if they used a substance on humans that is not FDA approved. The answer appears to be yes with one exception: the University of Mississippi.
The University of Mississippi, in 1986, contracted with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the university's lab to grow, harvest, and process cannabis and to ship it to licensed facilities across the country for research.
In the bill, there is an option to obtain cannabidiol oil from the University of Mississippi.
"Twenty other states approved medical cannabis in their studies and every single one of them grow it, process it, and distribute it to their citizens. That is the best option we have, even though it is against federal law in those twenty other states," Rep. Peake said
If twenty other states are growing medical cannabis against federal law, why cannot Georgia? It appears half the country is violating federal law. Maybe federal law needs to catch up with the rest of the country and current medical research. Thousands of years ago, the Chinese people were using cannabis for many ailments.
Several academic medical centers in Georgia have indicated that if it were state law, they would be interested in the research.
Passage of this bill "sends a message across the country that we as a State [are saying] it’s time to look at this, it’s time for DEA to look at relaxing the restrictions on marijuana as a Schedule One drug. The more states that get involved in this, I think you are going to see some relaxing of those restrictions," Rep. Peake said.
The passage of this bill "gives us hope to keep on fighting," Corey Lowe, said. Lowe’s twelve year-old daughter, Victoria, has seizures. "We are just a small handful of parents; some could not get here or get a babysitter for a child that is having seizures. It's for all of those kids and their families... not just for Victoria," Lowe said.
SPLIT IN GEORGIA’S MARIJUANA ACTIVIST COMMUNITY
Meanwhile, there appears to have been a split in the cannabis advocacy community.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, there are some older marijuana advocacy organizations in Georgia, including the Georgia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and the Coalition against Marijuana Prohibition (CAMP).
Over the last couple years, a couple of new organizations have formed including Peachtree NORML and Georgia CARE.
On February 29, 2014, Paul Cornwell of CAMP sent a message to Atlanta Progressive News and to others on Facebook, stating, “PLEASE consider removing yourself from the Peachtree NORML membership list. I was wrong to invite you to join. PLEASE READ my post @ www.facebook.com/groups/potfestival. We no longer support PEACHTREE NORML nor GA CARE. PAUL / Atlanta CAMP.”
Previously, Cornwell described HB 885 as “gutted” and “totally unacceptable,” in a February 03, 2014 email to APN, adding that CAMP opposed the bill as written, at that time.
On February 25, according to Cornwell’s Facebook post, Georgia NORML, Peachtree NORML, and Georgia Moms for Marijuana pulled their support from an annual event sponsored by CAMP, the Great Atlanta Pot Festival, scheduled for April 20, 2014.
“CAMP no longer endorses the efforts of PTREE NORML. Your disregard for the imput [sic] of others is enough to alarm any true cannabis activists. The picture of you all with Governor NATHAN DEAL really reflects the whole story. I, nor my associates 'brown nose' with the enemy,” Cornwell wrote in response.
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