After only two weeks in session, three separate Bills regarding marijuana policy reform are waiting to be addressed by the Georgia State Legislature; two from State Representative Allen Peake (R-Macon), and a third from Senators Watson and Unterman. The two Bills from Peake may not appeal to a majority Republican-run House and Senate, but it’s clear that they could appeal to the 71% of voters who “support expanding medical marijuana in Georgia to include an in-state harvesting program.”
We reached out to one of Georgia’s most well-known cannabis reform leaders to get his take on the dizzying number of medical marijuana bills introduced this year. A leader in Georgia’s reform movement for more than 30 years, nobody knows more about what’s going on with marijuana under the Gold Dome than James Bell. James is the Executive Director of the Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform and Education (Georgia C.A.R.E. Project).
Here’s a rundown of what is being voted on this legislative session.
Georgia’s Pending Medical Marijuana Legislation
House Resolutions Bill 36 (HR 36)
Filled by Rep. Peake, this yes or no public vote has the potential to change the Constitution of Georgia to authorize the General Assembly to provide a law for producing, regulating, and selling cannabis to individuals who qualify for medical marijuana. If it passes—that is, if it obtains two-thirds approval from both House and Senate—voters could be deciding on medical cannabis as early as 2018.
Bell tells us that Georgia CARE Project supports the ability of the public to vote yes or no on cannabis sales and taxes. “Polling shows more than 70% of likely voters support the concept. There is majority support for this in the Georgia Assembly, but the measure [was] blocked by Gov. Nathan Deal. This resolution does not require a signature of the governor. Without in-state cultivations, patients will still have to look to the black or gray market for medicine. We encourage the passage of this resolution.”
House Bill 65 (HB 65)
This second Bill filed by Rep. Peake aims to expand the access of medical marijuana to patients with conditions outside of the scope of those specified in House Bill 51 (2015).
“We support the expansion of the medical conditions list,” says Bell. “However, we are advocating the addition of glaucoma to the list. Glaucoma was the first medical condition recognized in Georgia in 1980 as being treated with cannabis (THC) under the Therapeutic Research Act. While Georgia CARE supports this Bill, we advocate for whole-plant medicine with access to any patient that finds benefit from the plant or chooses to determine if cannabis is the right treatment for them. It should be a matter for patients and doctors, not politicians.”
The updated list of qualifying conditions if HB 65 passes would include:
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Seizure Disorders
- Multiple sclerosis
- Crohn’s disease
- Mitochondrial disease
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Sickle cell disease
- Tourette’s Syndrome
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Intractable pain
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
- Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
Senate Bill 16 (SB16)
Senate Bill 16 aims to amend the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to the regulation of what lawmakers define as “low-THC oil” and the provisions relating to the conditions eligible for therapeutic low-THC oil. The amendment could reduce the allowed amounts of THC found in cannabis oil from 5% to 3%. This is the only bill not supported by the Georgia C.A.R.E Project.
“We oppose this bill and view it as a Bill designed for leverage over bills. Perhaps to kill other bills like HB-65. We do not support lowering the percentage of THC from 5% to 3%. There is no justification for this move.”
Bell established the Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform, and Education in 2012 after Colorado and Washington State voted to legalize. He has testified before legislative committees, speaks at college events and works with the media as a consultant. Bell has been instrumental in helping to draft reform legislation in Georgia. You can connect with James and get involved in the burgeoning marijuana reform movement in Georgia by visiting the Georgia C.A.R.E. Project website at GaCAREProject.com.