Rabun County rep speaks out on state marijuana bills
State legislators are preparing several marijuana-related bills for discussion during this year’s General Assembly.
Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, pre-filed bipartisan House Bill 722 on Jan. 6, which calls for an in-state cultivation model for medical cannabis. It is now sitting in House committee. The bill is a response to last year’s HB 1, which legalized low-THC cannabis oil to treat cancer, ALS, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Mitochondrial disease, Parkinson’s and sickle cell disease. That bill is also referred to as Haleigh’s Hope Act after 5-year-old Haleigh Cox, whose family moved to Colorado to obtain cannabis oil to help with their daughter's seizures.
In its current form, HB 722 expands the number of diagnoses that can use medical marijuana to 17, including post-traumatic stress disorder, terminal illness, HIV and AIDS. It also sets up a model where cannabis can be grown in state and distributed to patients. The bill limits the number of cannabis growers and manufacturers to six, as well as expands the delivery method to pills, liquids and vapors.
Cannabis is illegal under federal law and those who obtain cannabis oil under HB 1 commit felonies while transferring it across state lines. Peake told Atlanta Magazine on Feb. 1 his aim was to make it possible for patients to obtain the medicine they need legally and in Georgia.
Rabun County’s Rep. Stephen Allison, R-Blairsville, said he recognized this fact last year. He was the only representative to vote “no” to HB 1.
“I told them the reason I didn’t vote for this bill was because it was going to make (people) felons. I find it incredibly ironic that I am being told by groups that are supporting this bill that I need to now support a bill because the bill we passed last year is garbage,” Allison said Friday.
The representative added there are many major flaws with the bill, including its limit on six manufacturers. Even proponents of the movement, like Veterans for Cannabis founder Joshua Littrell, said limiting a free market would be detrimental. He worries big pharmaceutical companies might take over and also does not agree with the limitations on diagnoses.
Littrell, of Tiger, has been pushing for an in-state cultivation model for months. He’s produced public service announcements with Peake describing the benefits medical cannabis has on veterans with PTSD and other ailments.
“Cannabis can save lives,” Littrell said. “The overdose of medications that happen every single day in this state from people dying accidentally is an epidemic. We can prevent that with cannabis. Nobody will ever overdose and die from cannabis.”
Other Rabun County residents disagree. A.J. Moore, also of Tiger, expressed his concern about medical marijuana in a Feb. 11 Letter to the Editor. Moore told The Clayton Tribune on Feb. 8 he opposed the idea.
“It winds up being sold to people who don’t need medical marijuana. They just want marijuana to get hooked on it,” Moore said. “We’ve had reputable individuals lose it.”
Political analysts — and Littrell — agree the bill will have trouble passing through the Senate.
Rabun County’s Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, said though the bill has not reached his chamber yet, he has his doubts.
“At this point, I am not in favor of that. I just think there has to be a lot of safeguards built in,” he said. “For instance, it would make a difference for me whether you’re going to let individuals cultivate it or maybe whether one of your colleges or universities would do it, or maybe a medical lab or something like that.”
Wilkinson, who chairs the Senate’s Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, said he has talked with officials in Oregon and Colorado who deal with cannabis cultivation in their states.
“One thing they told us … they permit individuals to cultivate the marijuana out there. If you go by the USDA definition of a farmer, statewide they have 30,000 farmers and they have 60,000 people that have permits to grow marijuana,” he said. “I want to do what I can to help the children who are sick, I just think we’ve got to be very careful as we move forward.”
Allison said he believes medicine and politics shouldn’t mix.
“We are trying to make medical decisions based on a political issue. I think that is a very dangerous precedent to set,” he said. “This has become an emotional issue, which I understand. But it needs to become a medical issue and to do so, it’s got a long way to go.”
There is also SB 254, introduced by Sen. Harold V. Jones II, D-Augusta, that seeks to reduce marijuana possession to a misdemeanor.