Pubdate: Thu, 27 Feb 2014
Source: Athens Banner-Herald (GA)
Copyright: 2014 Athens Newspapers Inc
Author: Christina A. Cassidy


ATLANTA - A bill to allow a type of medical marijuana in Georgia 
under certain circumstances passed a key committee vote Wednesday, 
keeping it alive as a major legislative deadline looms.

Sponsored by Republican Rep. Allen Peake of Macon, House Bill 885 
would revive a long-dormant research program allowing academic 
institutions to distribute marijuana to patients suffering from 
specific medical conditions.

The House Health and Human Services Committee passed the bill by a 
voice vote during Wednesday's meeting, prompting hugs and tears from 
families in the audience whose children suffer from medical 
conditions that can cause multiple daily seizures. The families 
believe, based on anecdotal evidence seen elsewhere, that a form of 
cannabis oil could reduce the seizures and improve their children's 
quality of life and have been lobbying lawmakers to support the effort.

The bill still has to be placed on the House calendar for a floor 
vote, which must happen Monday or it would no longer be active for 
this year's legislative session.

Peake presented a revised bill at the committee, saying he needed to 
address the fact that federal guidelines prohibit transporting 
cannabis across state lines. The bill would now permit approved 
academic medical centers in the state to grow, process and distribute 
medical cannabis, although significant challenges remain including 
the potential loss of federal funding if an academic institution 
elects to participate in research involving a drug not approved by 
the Federal Drug Administration.

"I am an optimist, and I do believe that as states like Georgia lead 
the way it will put some pressure on the federal level to make some 
changes," Peake told the committee. "And it would be prudent for us 
to be ready for when those changes happen."

The drug would be administered orally in a liquid form, and Peake has 
been adamant it would not open the door to recreational use of 
marijuana in the state.

Some committee members raised concerns the bill would provide false 
hope to families, although it passed without opposition.

"I know your intentions are the best in the world," state Rep. Sharon 
Cooper, R-Marietta, told Peake. "But I am having a problem with 
raising parents' expectations that we are going to get them something 
very quickly when it looks like we may not have the ability to do 
that. As long as you are honest about it, that it may not come quickly."

The bill defines the academic medical centers as a research hospital 
that operates a doctor residency program and conducts research, 
including medical schools within the state that conduct clinical 
research. Peake said those would include such universities as Georgia 
Regents, Emory and Mercer.

"We need to do a little more research and that's why this is just the 
second step in the journey," Peake told reporters after the hearing. 
"If we need to do some tweaking we will do that."

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical 
marijuana. The Georgia bill has quickly gained momentum considering 
it was not even an issue on the legislative agenda heading into the 
session. When Peake introduced the bill late last month, more than 80 
lawmakers signed on as sponsors including a number who serve in House 
leadership positions.

The bill, known as "Haleigh's Hope Act," is named after Haleigh Cox, 
a young girl who suffers from a medical condition causing severe 
seizures. Peake said he was spurred to draft the bill after meeting 
with her and her parents. And the bill gained momentum in large part 
as families petitioned lawmakers to support the bill.

"It means the world that they would open their hearts and hear our 
stories and the compassionate side of it, and let us make the choice 
as parents," said Corey Lowe, a former police officer whose 
12-year-old daughter Victoria was diagnosed with mitochondrial 
disease and can have up to 100 seizures a day if not controlled.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom