6By Lyle V. Harris
Lawmakers shouldn’t be forced to behave like outlaws. Nor should sick and suffering Georgians be treated like criminals merely for seeking the medicine they need. But that’s the twisted reality of our state’s conflicted and confusing cannabis policy. It’s time for that dynamic to change and voters deserve the opportunity to make it so at the ballot box.
Georgia has had in a law in place since 2015 for patients to legally use cannabis oil if they have been diagnosed with one or more severe chronic illnesses including cancer, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. The measure is known as “Haleigh’s Hope Act,” so-named after a little girl from Macon for whom cannabis oil was the best relief from her terrifying seizures. It still is, and Haleigh has also shared her name with a brand of medical cannabis oil.
Earlier this year, Governor Nathan Deal signed an expansion of the law, that covered six other debilitating illnesses: AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, epidermolysis bullosa, peripheral neuropathy and Tourette’s syndrome. It also allowed patients in hospice care to possess the oil.
Bear in mind, the type of cannabis oil available to Georgia medical patients has extremely low amounts of THC – a maximum of five percent. The concentration of THC is so minimal consuming it doesn’t produce the same psychoactive “high” as the cannabis used for recreational purposes. To be eligible, a patient must be under the care of a licensed physician, register with the state and they’re restricted to possessing only 20 ounces of low-THC oil.
But there’s an epic problem with Georgia’s cannabis law that needs fixing. Since all types of cannabis are still considered illegal under federal law, and because the plant cannot be grown legally in Georgia, obtaining it often means crossing state lines and risking arrest. To fill the gap, Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) and an anonymous group of supporters have been heroically – and unlawfully – shipping it from other states where it’s legal and then distributing it to patients once it arrives in Georgia.
This “underground railroad” for medical cannabis is just plumb crazy. It’s the main reason Peake and other lawmakers are making an early push for a constitutional amendment to enable the cultivation of medical cannabis in Georgia. If approved by a two-thirds majority of both chambers of the General Assembly next year, voters could be casting ballots on a homegrown cultivation measure in November 2018.
The proposed ballot measure, House Resolution 36, was originally introduced in the 2017 legislative session, but didn’t get much traction. There are some signs next year could be different.
For starters, public support for cannabis continues to grow nationally and locally. An AJC poll conducted earlier this year among Georgians found that 71 percent of respondents were in favor of expanding access to cannabis oil for medical patients, including in-state cultivation.
There’s also emerging evidence that cannabis is a more effective, more affordable and a much safer treatment for chronic pain than highly addictive opioids, the highly popular family of (mostly) prescription drugs which has caused the “national health emergency” recently proclaimed by the Trump administration.
On his Facebook page, Peake made an impassioned plea to the governor, his fellow legislators and workaday Georgians urging them to support a statewide referendum on in-state cannabis cultivation.
Peake’s social media post is a tad long. But it’s worth reading and, most important, it’s a cause worth fighting for on behalf of those who are suffering needlessly. Here’s an excerpt:
“…Over the last 9 months, myself along with a small group of dedicated families have taken the very risky position that we would provide medical cannabis oil to hurting Georgians who were properly registered with the state, at no cost to the individual. We would find a way to help those who the state said had the legal right to possess medical cannabis oil for their debilitating disease, since there was no way to get the product in our state.
Well, we have been overwhelmed……by the incredible stories of changed lives from the use of medical cannabis oil; by the tearful and heartfelt messages from families about how the last days of their loved ones life were so much better; by the thank you’s from individuals who can now function better every day…….all messages that just confirmed that what we were doing was worth every risk.
But the demand has become too great……we can’t keep up with the thousands of Georgians who want access to medical cannabis oil. There are now over 2,500 Georgians registered with the Dept of Public Health, and they all want, and expect, the right to get medical cannabis oil. But we can’t provide it to all of them…….the cost, logistics, and process is too overwhelming.
So, if you are one of the 2,500 Georgians, it’s time for you to let your voice be heard. You must get involved to tell YOUR state Representative and Senator that the state must take action. We MUST create an instate cultivation model that allows our citizens to access the product HERE in Georgia, and we need to do it now.
For the sake of our citizens who are truly hurting, I’m pleading………let’s complete the job we started with Haleigh’s Hope Act in 2015. Let’s provide access to medical cannabis oil for our fellow citizens.
For more information on how to get involved, you can visit the Georgia’s Hope Facebook page at www.facebook.com/isupporthb885.”