Pubdate: Mon, 10 Feb 2014
Source: Macon Telegraph (GA)
Copyright: 2014 The Macon Telegraph Publishing Company
Author: Maggie Lee


ATLANTA -- In front of a packed room at the Georgia Capitol, Monroe 
County mother Janea Cox pleaded for her daughter's life at the first 
hearing on a new medical marijuana proposal.

"I'm going to lose my child if this drug is not approved," said Cox, 
whose daughter Haleigh is the inspiration and namesake for House Bill 
885, by state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon.

"We're going to break up my family," a tearful Cox said while her 
child was a few miles away at Children's Hospital of Atlanta at 
Egleston, where she has been for more than 50 days since a severe 
attack that caused her to stop breathing for several minutes.

Cox said her husband would stay in Georgia to keep his job.

Haleigh's breathing continues to stop regularly, she said. The mother 
and daughter were packing for Colorado when the first episode happened.

Peake's bill would open a door for Georgians to access to a liquid 
medicine derived from cannabis for treatment of severe seizure disorders.

"It has extremely low levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the part 
that makes you high," said Peake, and is "low in CBD," or 
cannabidiol, a therapeutic compound.

"I would posit this is not marijuana. This is an extract from a 
chemical from a plant," said Dr. Michael Greene of Macon, speaking 
for the Medical Association of Georgia.

The association adamantly opposes recreational marijuana but favors 
Peake's bill, saying it includes adequate safeguards and is narrowly 
enough written.

"If you have a family member with this, your family is consumed with 
this," said Greene. And some of the other treatments for severe 
epilepsy, he said, include drastic measures like severing some of the 
connections in the brain.

But there is a lot between Monday's hearing and any cannabis 
derivative arriving at the Cox house.

"The elephant in the room is the (federal Drug Enforcement Agency)," 
said Rick Allen, director of the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency.

He's in charge of overseeing prescription drugs in Georgia as they 
pass through the hands of pharmacists, doctors and researchers.

He noted that the only marijuana farm the federal government 
considers legal is its own patch at the University of Mississippi, 
which is used for federally approved cannabis research.

But if it's not Mississippi cannabis or a UK-approved CBD-rich 
medication with federal approval, it's no good, Allen said.

"The drugs from Colorado could not come into Georgia legally," he 
said. "Nobody wants a raid from the DEA."

"Our biggest challenge so far is how do we get medical cannabis to 
Georgia," Peake said.

In other states, trials are going on with a CBD-rich medicine, but 
there is more demand than supply for those programs. And if a doctor 
in Georgia wanted to start research, it's not clear how long it would 
take to get started.

Indeed, even for a CBD-rich pediatric anti-seizure medicine that 
doesn't have FDA approval, there's a line more than 2,000 people 
deep, said its Colorado Springs, Co.-based manufacturer Joel Stanley.

The customers for his Charlotte's Web "are people who just love their 
kids," not recreational marijuana activists, Stanley said.

Charlotte's Web costs about $150 to $250 per patient per month, 
depending on the dose required, said Stanley. It's named for 
Charlotte Figi, a Colorado girl whose seizure disorder was relived by 
the liquid.

But Susan Rusche is critical of substances like Charlotte's Web 
because the FDA does not oversee its production or approve its use.

Children have a right to safe medicines, not "impure, unsafe, 
experimental drugs," said Rusche, president and CEO of the 
Atlanta-based anti-substance abuse organization National Families in Action.

Karen Tinker, a mother of an epileptic son, also wants to go slow.

"I don't want to condone reckless trial and error," she said at 
Monday's hearing. She's sticking with medicines that have been 
researched for side effects and interactions.

"I don't want my son to be a guinea pig," she said.

But besides the legal and medical debate, there's also a calendar to 
think about.

The state legislative session is half over. There are just 20 more 
working days left this year, and the bill must pass the House of 
Representatives by day 30, or it's dead for the year.

A hearing for public comment is tentatively scheduled for Thursday in 
the House Health and Human Services Committee.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom