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Georgia Might Legalize Medical Marijuana

A few lawmakers under the Gold Dome have started buzzing about bringing medical marijuana to Georgia.

State Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) picked up an idea sparked by CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s documentary about marijuana’s applications for patients who find no relief from available pharmaceuticals.

“Children with certain seizure disorders who really have been unable to find any relief with any of the traditional medical remedies available to them… [are] receiving a lot of relief from this oil that can be derived from marijuana,” McKoon told the website ZPolitics. Because some Georgia residents can’t get the medicine they need, they’re moving to Colorado, he added.

The idea might actually get a serious look. In a recent report by Channel 2 Action News, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) said that he would be open to the idea of medical marijuana. “Let’s take the politics out of it and sort of look at the science and hear from the medical professionals,” Ralston said.

McKoon said there’s “an appetite for dialog” among some state legislators who have contacted him with interest in being a part of any proceedings on the issue. He said he wants to “get medical expert testimony in front of the legislature to determine if there needs be a change.”

James Bell, executive director for Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform and Education, has been advocating for cannabis reform for years. Last spring, Georgia CARE helped organize the Southern Cannabis Reform Conference to educate about marijuana prohibition and the drug’s benefits.

“Cannabis is an old-world remedy we’re rediscovering in the 21st Century,” Bell told Flagpole

Believe it or not, Georgia was actually one of the first states to enact a bill in the early 1980s under the federal government’s Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act. It was meant to give cancer and glaucoma patients access to marijuana in a research setting to gain a greater understanding of its medicinal effects. The law relied on the federal government’s cooperation and supply of the substance—typically a very low-grade version of the type of marijuana that can be grown today, “what a smoker today would call ditch weed,” Bell said.

The THC content—tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical compound that gets you high—is much higher today and comes in a safer way to ingest it, such as “dabs of oil, lozenges, vaporizing products” and other edibles that are less harmful to the lungs than the traditional smoke inhalation route, Bell said. What’s more, another chemical compound in marijuana—CBD, or cannabidiol—doesn’t make you high, but may possess broader medicinal uses than THC.

Georgia’s program for obtaining medical marijuana ended before it even got started because the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration stopped supplying it in 1982, and the program has lain dormant since.

“We’ve lost 30 years of potential research… Georgia could’ve been the pioneer in therapeutic research [for cannabis],” Bell. “We’re way beyond research at this point” he said, pointing to the 20 other states that have legalized or decriminalized medical marijuana.

Bell is calling for a “comprehensive law” that will allow patients to gain access to the natural medicine they need. 

One of Athens’ legislators, Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville), has spoken to McKoon about medicinal marijuana. He said the idea is in the “preliminary stages” right now, but he’s interested in finding out if there are “legitimate purposes” for the drug. 

“As far as the expediency in which we need to move, I can’t say this is anything that we need to expedite,” Ginn said. “I don’t think there’s any reason to delay it.”

The research has already been done, Bell said, and if state legislators would “have an open mind and listen,” legalizing medical marijuana could be accomplished in a shorter period of time. There are experts around the world, like Gupta—who has an office in Atlanta—who would probably step in to testify, he said.

Two Atlanta patients—one who suffers from glaucoma and another who suffers from cancer—have applied for benefits under Georgia’s existing medical marijuana statute to solicit a response from legislators and to add pressure on the legislature to do something during this session, Bell said.

“It’s not matter of if; it’s a matter of when it will happen,” Bell said.