After two rancorous years of squabbling, confusion and heated debate, Georgia appears on the verge of having a medical marijuana law after the state Senate passed a sweeping bill Tuesday that would allow cannabis oil to be used to treat eight medical conditions.
The Senate passed a substitute measure to a House bill that passed overwhelmingly. The substitute was developed in the past few weeks by the upper chamber’s Health and Human Services Committee.
It now goes back to the full House for tweaking, since the Senate substitute deleted Fibromyalgia from the list of diagnoses contained in the original bill, sponsored by Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon.
An ebullient Peake said he is confident the House will quickly pass the substitute and that Gov. Nathan Deal could sign it into law, possibly by week’s end.
Georgia would become the 37th state to have some sort of medical marijuana law. Peake said 23 states and Washington, D.C., have laws allowing the use of marijuana extracts with no limits on the levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient. An additional 12 states allow medical marijuana only for epilepsy and limit THC.
The bill passed by the Senate allows a limit of 5 percent THC for treatment of seizure disorders, sickle cell anemia, cancer, Crohn’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), mitochondrial disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. An amendment to add autism failed.
Patients would be able to obtain up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil under strict supervision of their doctors and the state.
The substitute, which passed 48-6, could benefit up to 500,000 Georgians if signed into law, Peake said.
The compromise bill would allow adults as well as children to be treated with cannabis oil and set up the Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis to oversee the program.
Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford and chairman of the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, said “perfection of the bill will come with policy regulations” and that “we have not opened the door” to a system like Colorado’s, where marijuana is legal.
“This is a truly an emotional bill,” she said. “These people with these conditions, it gives them hope.”
Peake said “this is a monumental day in Georgia” and that he supports Deal’s efforts for a clinical trial, which is already under way. He said 17 Georgia families, “medical refugees” who moved to Colorado for treatment, may be able to get treatment here in 30 to 60 days.
“If this improves the quality of life for one day for one child, it’s worth it,” Peake said.
Last year, a medical marijuana bill failed at the very end of the session.
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