Pubdate: Fri, 14 Mar 2014
Source: Athens Banner-Herald (GA)
Copyright: 2014 Athens Newspapers Inc
Author: Charles Craig


ATLANTA - A Georgia Senate panel this week unanimously approved a
newly-revised bill that would legalize marijuana derivatives in
Georgia for treatment of patients with cancer, glaucoma and seizure

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee amended House Bill 885,
the original House version of the medical marijuana bill, to make it
easier for Georgians to gain access to cannabidiol oil, a
non-psychoactive derivative of marijuana.

The major change would grant immunity from prosecution in Georgia for
possession of CBD oil obtained legally in a state that permits the use
of medical marijuana.

Twenty states have legalized medical use of marijuana, and two states,
Colorado and Washington, recently legalized recreational use.

The original HB 885 was sponsored by Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, who
championed the legislation to help children who suffer from serious
seizure disorders. CBD has proved effective in reducing the number and
duration of seizures, according to parents and physicians.

Under the Senate committee version of the bill, children with seizures
or patients with cancer or glaucoma could use CBD or other marijuana
derivatives as soon as they were able to secure them from outside
Georgia. And patients could take them directly without supervision by
a Georgia physician or an academic medical center.

But there's still a legal catch if the bill is passed. Transporting
any marijuana, medical or otherwise, across state lines is a federal
crime. That means Georgia parents or adult patients would risk arrest
by federal authorities if caught bringing CBD from another state, such
as Colorado, where the oil is manufactured.

Some Georgia families already have moved to Colorado to get legal
access to the oil for their ailing children.

Sen. Fran Millar, R-Atlanta, said he supports the intent of helping
Georgia children with seizures, as well as cancer and glaucoma
patients, but worries that the bill would condone illegal behavior.

"Let's leave that decision to the parents," Peake told lawmakers. "If
they are willing to take the risk that a TSA agent will arrest them
with a vial of oil, let's let them make the decision."

Parents of three children who suffer from uncontrolled seizures urged
the committee to approve the legislation. Jenea Cox, mother of
4-year-old Haleigh Cox, told the lawmakers this week that she would be
moving to Colorado to get the oil for her daughter, who suffers as
many as 200 seizures a day.

"I can't wait any longer," she said.

Haleigh, who attended the Senate hearing, was the inspiration for
Peake's legislation, which he called Haleigh's Hope Act.

Anthony and Sarah Caruso of Flowery Branch also brought their
daughter, 5-year-old Britlyn. She suffers from cerebral palsy and
epilepsy. Prior to the hearing, Sarah Caruso described the bill as "a
step in the right direction."

"Parents are being told it's a 'false hope,' " Sarah said. "We don't
consider it a false hope. This is a plan to get the medicine in the

The Senate committee version of the bill was written with the help of
the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia, whose legislative
counsel, Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, testified in
favor of the legislation. Porter said the Georgia Bureau of
Investigation had reviewed the bill's language.

The Georgia Sheriffs Association also supports the

Porter said Georgia prosecutors are not interested in depriving
children or adults of medical marijuana, but simply want legislation
that does not open the door to legalizing recreational marijuana.

The language in the amended bill meets that standard, Porter
indicated, because it clearly defines non-smoking marijuana
derivatives and exempts them from the state's Controlled Substances

The Senate version, in an apparent concession to some critics,
eliminates a provision in the original House bill allowing academic
medical centers to grow marijuana and manufacture the non-smoking

The Senate committee also tacked onto the marijuana legislation a
provision mandating insurance coverage for treatment of autism. A
separate Senate bill on such coverage has stalled in the House.

Committee Chairwoman Renee Unterman, R-Buford, said if the committee's
version of HB 885 is passed by the full Senate, it will be renamed the
"Kids Care Act." The Senate bill will then be referred to a
House-Senate Conference Committee to resolve differences with the
original HB 885.

Peake told the committee there may be some push back from the House on
the Senate version. He told GHN his House colleagues may resist the
autism portion of the Senate bill.
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