Marijuana

ATLANTA — A move to let more Georgians use medical cannabis is nearing a final vote in the General Assembly.

The state House of Representatives approved a compromise measure Tuesday that allows those in hospice care and those diagnosed with autism, Tourette’s syndrome, AIDS and other conditions to use the oil.

The measure is expected to clear the Georgia Senate on Thursday, which is the last day of the legislative session.

Carissa Webb, who is lives in Trenton, Georgia, said she may soon be able to start treating her 17-year-old son, Gage Henry, legally with cannabis oil.

Her son, who has Tourette’s, was experiencing four neurological ticks a minute before he started using the oil more than a year ago. Now, he is down to about 20 ticks a week, she said.

“It is both maddening and saddening to hear legislators sit back and argue over this and oppose something that has given my son his life back,” Webb said at a press conference held Tuesday afternoon. “How can anyone with any common sense or ethics oppose that?”

The bill also keeps the allowable THC level at 5 percent after the Senate tried earlier to reduce it.

Autoimmune disease and HIV were removed from the list of allowable uses during negotiations with senators. Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, said he was also disappointed that post-traumatic stress disorder didn’t make it into the bill.

He said he hopes lawmakers will eventually take themselves out of the process of deciding who can use the oil.

“We ought to be letting doctors decide and help make this decision for their patients and not have an arbitrary list of conditions,” he said

Peake said that there is also still a “gaping hole in our law.” Georgia’s law lets people possess the cannabis oil, but it’s still against federal law to transport the product across state lines.

“There is still a lot of work to be done,” Peake said from the House floor. “Hopefully Congress will take some action as well that will help us but in the meantime, we’re going to do what we can here at the state level.”

Sen. Greg Kirk, R-Americus, said lawmakers have taken — and will continue to take – a “deliberate path” when it comes to medical cannabis.

He noted that the oil hasn’t worked for everyone.

“We don’t have all the answers,” Kirk told the parents at the press conference Tuesday. “But I do know that we’re making progress. I do know that we care.”

Some lawmakers remain uneasy with the state’s program and the efforts to expand it.

“We — as lawmakers — are breaking federal law by anything we pass in regards to the legalization of cannabis,” said Sen. Chuck Payne, R-Dalton, who said he was concerned about the potential long-term effects on children.

Payne, who is a first-year lawmaker, sponsored a resolution this year that would ask national leaders to reschedule marijuana so its medical benefits can be studied. “I want medical data. I want medical proof,” he said.

Parents, though, said they do not intend to wait around on Congress. They say they will soon shift their focus to a proposal that asks voters whether Georgia should allow medical cannabis to be grown, produced and sold here.

Peake filed a resolution earlier this session that would put that question on the ballot next year, and he said Tuesday that supporters will push for that measure next year. It would need a two-thirds majority in both chambers.

Expanding the program will help bolster the argument for homegrown medical cannabis, says Troup County parent Dale Jackson, who has been treating his 8-year-old son’s autism with the oil illegally.

Right now, there are more than 1,300 people who are on the state’s registry.

“Our goal this year was to exponentially increase the people covered with a card so that now, this time next year, we can be making the argument on behalf of 10,000 people,” Jackson said, referring to the number of Georgians who are believed to have autism.

It’s unclear how many people would take advantage of the program under the proposed expansion. Hospice care, for one, covers a broad range of afflictions. There are more than 200 hospice agencies just in Atlanta.

Jill Nolin covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jnolin@cnhi.com.

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