Pubdate: Fri, 17 Jan 2014
Source: Macon Telegraph (GA)
Copyright: 2014 The Macon Telegraph Publishing Company
Author: Maggie Lee


ATLANTA -- Haleigh Cox's seizure disorder makes all her days hard. She
has up to 100 seizures a day. When her breathing stopped earlier this
month, her mom, Janea Cox, thought she had lost her only child.

Since then, the Forsyth 4-year-old has been struggling at Children's
Hospital at Egleston in Atlanta, tied into tubes that keep her alive.

Her family has tried dozens of medications and treatments, and now it
is desperately seeking another one.

That medicine is a capsule containing extracts from marijuana, a drug
that's illegal in all forms in Georgia.

"I'm in contact with several families in Colorado at the moment with
this same diagnosis as Haleigh," Cox said. Some of them have gone down
from as many as 300 seizures daily to as few as one a week or month,
she said. Mother and daughter were packing their bags for Colorado
recently when the latest crisis hit.

"She's on four seizure medications now," Cox said. "A seizure
medication literally shuts down your brain."

Haleigh's parents miss typical playing with their child, listening to
her laugh and watching her mind develop. Instead, their daughter
sleeps about 18 hours a day, one of many side effects of the
anti-seizure drugs she takes. She needs help to sit up or hold up her

While federal law bans marijuana, 20 states plus the District of
Columbia now allow the use of medical marijuana.

After meeting the Coxes, state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, said he's
going to take the lead on adding Georgia to that list.

"I'm an unlikely champion of this," said Peake, who said he's never
smoked pot and said several times that he opposes anything except a
tightly controlled, legitimate medical marijuana trade.

"But this has affected me more than anything else in eight years here"
at the state Capitol, he said. "If it was my child, my grandchild, I'd
be crawling over broken glass to make sure this legislation gets passed."

Now, there's no legislation in Georgia, only talk -- including a lot
of conversation that Peake initiates with his colleagues.

No one state regulates medical marijuana just like another, said Kris
Hermes, of Americans for Safe Access, a Washington, D.C.-based lobby
group that advocates for legal access to cannabis for therapeutic uses
and for research.

By his count, at least six more states will look at medical marijuana
legislation this year.

But there's a trend in some places, he said, of passing laws that are
not implemented or that are so strict, prospective patients do not
have ready access to cannabis.

In Illinois, for example, a law setting up a pilot medical marijuana
program took effect this month, but the rules and regulations will not
be ready until late summer at the earliest. Until then, not even the
seeds can be planted.

"We're kind of sending the message that it's good to strictly
regulate," Hermes said, "but you have to keep in mind the needs of

Cox does not support recreational marijuana or even the type of weed
that smokers know.

What she wants Haleigh to try is a compound derived from "a special
kind of marijuana that's high in CBD (cannabidiol) that helps the
brain, and low in THC," or tetrahydrocannabinol, which delivers the
plant's high.

Georgia lawmakers have thought about therapeutic cannabis before. In
1980, the Legislature created the Controlled Substances Therapeutic
Research Program. It set up a process for doctors to investigate the
effects of cannabis on glaucoma and cancer patients.

But at least within living memory, that program has never attracted
any researchers or volunteer patients.

The Medical Association of Georgia supports that framework. But "MAG
strongly condemns the use of marijuana and any of its cannabinoid
derivatives such as delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) for general
(recreational) use or for any purpose other than medical research,"
said the association's executive director, Donald Palmisano Jr. in a
written statement.

"We've been struggling for years trying to get the Legislature to
study this issue," said James Bell, executive director of Georgia
CARE, the Campaign for Access, Reform and Education. It advocates
reform of Georgia's "antiquated" cannabis laws.

The conversation this year is a bit of a surprise to Bell. It cranked
up earlier this month when a Columbus state senator called for
hearings on medical marijuana.

"Once someone says something, it seems like it's OK to say it," Bell
said. "It's been such a taboo issue."

Georgia CARE is ready to send doctors, patients and other
professionals whenever the Legislature wants to call hearings, either
formal or informal, he said.

"I think we've got dozens more (lawmakers) who are wanting to educate
themselves more," Bell said.

Peake said he's starting to read medical reports and study ways to
potentially control access, quality, distribution and regulation of
medical marijuana.

"The easy answer right now is, 'Let's study for a year, let's form a
committee,' " said Peake, but he added, "Some of these kids don't have
a year."

Bell said he wishes legislation had already been passed, adding
Georgia-grown marijuana could be ready 100 days after growers get a

Friday was the fifth day of the 2014 legislative session, which runs
40 days. Passing a medical marijuana law would be a huge task in the
remaining time.

"That'll be a monumental leap for this Legislature to do something
this session," Peake said.

"If it does, it'll be a small miracle."
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