Pubdate: Mon, 12 Jan 2015
Source: Athens Banner-Herald (GA)
Copyright: 2015 Athens Newspapers Inc
Author: Dick Yarbrough


State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, is a man on a mission. He is the
driving force behind proposed legislation to legalize medical
marijuana in Georgia. He may succeed this year, after suffering a
setback in 2014 when the House and Senate got into a bit of political
brinksmanship at the last minute and failed to pass his bill, which
had sailed through the House with only four negative votes.

Peake is back again with House Bill 1. He has the support of Gov.
Nathan Deal (albeit with a few conditions) and House Speaker David
Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. And with an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll
showing 84 percent of Georgians favor passage of medical marijuana
legislation, I suspect he has the Senate's attention, as well.

I've been around the block a few times, and can quickly discern public
pandering from genuine passion. Peake is passionate about this issue -
deeply passionate.

A mutual friend called him at the beginning of the legislative session
last year and asked him to talk to a friend whose 4-year-old daughter
was having as many as 200 seizures a day. The mother was going to have
to take her daughter to Colorado, where a treatment with a derivative
of marijuana, which seems to have an impact on seizure disorders, is

Peake then met little Haleigh Cox. "It was the first week of the
session," he remembers, "and she was in the hospital in ICU. That's
when it hit me. I have a 4-year-old granddaughter. I would crawl over
broken glass to do whatever it took for her to have access to the
medicine she needed."

For Haleigh, that medicine is cannabis oil. Although derived from the
marijuana plant, the oil doesn't create the high that recreational
marijuana users seek.

In order to get cannabis oil treatment, families have to split up,
with the mother and child moving out of state, leaving loved ones
behind. It's disruptive, traumatic and expensive.

"It's crazy," Peake said. "Why are we forcing Georgia families to have
to do this? That is what set me on a mission. I didn't care what it
took or what it cost me politically, I was determined that we were
going to pass legislation that would keep families from being torn
apart and that would provide some relief and hope for these children."

In addition to his legislative efforts, Peake established Journey for
Hope, a charitable fund to provide financial assistance for those
families. "It takes about $15,000 per family for moving expenses plus
six months of rent," he says, "and we have already moved 12 families
to Colorado."

There are still some hurdles to overcome in this legislative session
if Peake's bill is to pass. Deal wants a committee established to
recommend how cannabis oil would be produced and distributed in
Georgia, with the findings presented to the General Assembly by the
end of the year. Peake says he is OK with that.

If House Bill 1 becomes law, it would ensure decriminalization
immediately for Georgia families seeking medical cannabis. They would
be able to go to another state to legally obtain the medicine and then
come back home without fear of being prosecuted.

"Families now in Colorado will be able to come home immediately,"
Peake says. "They will likely have to go back every three to six
months for the next year-and-a-half to pick up medicine, but they will
be protected in Georgia for possession." Not having to underwrite
living expenses in Colorado would mean Journey of Hope would be able
to assist even more families.

Peake says that with the cannabis oil treatment, children who have
suffered 150 to 200 seizures a day are experiencing as little as one a
day, and sometimes will go a week without a seizure.

Since Peake began his effort to legalize medical marijuana, three
children who were at the Capitol last year with their families to
lobby for passage of his bill have died.

"I won't stand by and let that continue to happen," he says quietly. 
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