KINGSLAND – A Republican-backed bill to make it legal for Georgians to obtain, not just possess, limited amounts of medical marijuana oil cleared its first hurdle in the state’s House of Representatives Tuesday.
The bill is sponsored by five Republican state representatives and one Democrat. Republican state Rep. Micah Gravley has been a leading proponent of the legislation, named “Georgia’s Hope Act,” and said it will allow Georgians with certain state-specified conditions to obtain the oil.
“These aren’t people who are seeking a recreational high,” Gravley said, according to the West Georgia Neighbor. “These are people who simply want their children to experience less seizures, a loved one to be eased in the pain of cancer. These are people who simply want to go about their everyday lives and use an oil, and an oil only.”
The legislation passed the Georgia House 123-40 and permits growing and manufacturing medical marijuana. The bill also allows 60 dispensaries to “serve the state’s rising number of physician-approved medical marijuana patients — more than 8,400 so far,” reported The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. If Gravley’s bill passes, Georgia would join 31 states that allow some form of marijuana cultivation.
But critics of the bill warn it could pave the way for recreational marijuana legalization in the state and have unintended consequences.
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Medical marijuana oil has been legal for patients with conditions including cancer, severe autism and Crohn’s disease in Georgia since 2015, but it is still illegal to grow, buy, sell or transport the substance.
Gravley’s bill is supported by Georgians like Jimmy Wages of Paulding. Wages risks prosecution when he brings in marijuana oil from out of state to treat his daughter Sydney, who has seizures, reported The West Georgia Neighbor.
But critics of Gravley’s bill, like national organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), argue that Food and Drug Administration-approved therapies with marijuana-derived active ingredients are already available in Georgia.
“Our stance on medical marijuana is that there are most likely derivatives of the plant that could have medicinal value, and we would 100 percent support any such medication that could pass and stand up to scrutiny to the FDA,” SAM spokesman Colton Grace told The Daily Caller News Foundation in a phone interview Tuesday. “When you don’t have that you end up with markets, for example, in South Carolina you go into a beach shop in Myrtle Beach with salves, oils, tinctures for purchase that haven’t had any regulation. Consumers have almost zero idea what they’re putting in their bodies.”
The FDA has approved several drugs derived in some way from the marijuana plant. For instance, Epidiolex is a seizure treatment made with a purified active ingredient derived from marijuana.
Scientists and patients alike should be excited about the medical potential in cannabinoids, the unique compounds found in the marijuana plant, Sue Rusche of National Families in Action (NFIA) told TheDCNF in a phone interview, but Gravley’s bill is a totally wrongheaded approach. She and her husband Henry Rusche live in Georgia and founded NFIA in 1977 to advocate for drug prevention and education.
“Nobody is reporting that [Gravley’s bill] also legalizes home delivery, which means all over the state. How do you control a kid picking up the phone and ordering [THC oil]?” she told TheDCNF.
Big business is behind the push for more widespread access to medical marijuana, Rusche told TheDCNF. She pointed to Surterra, a multimillion-dollar medical marijuana company based in Georgia that operates in Florida, which has looser laws.
“Kids don’t have a chance, they really don’t. The three gateway drugs, alcohol, nicotine and marijuana, now these three industries are coming together to make marijuana beers, for instance,” Rusche told TheDCNF.
The Georgia Senate is not expected to vote on the measure for a few weeks. It is unknown whether new Republican Gov. Brian Kemp would sign Gravley’s bill, which prevents smoking or vaping medical marijuana oil
“I sympathize and empathize with them on that issue, and I support research-based expansion,” Kemp said in January. “Thankfully, there is some research that’s going on in this field that will give us some good data that will kind of tell us how to move forward.”