Square One: Medical Marijuana

On this edition of Square One, we take a look at the increasingly important issue of medical marijuana, including how it can help children suffering from debilitating diseases and why everyone in Georgia seems to be talking about it.

Legalizing medical marijuana is an issue that frequents all forms of media and conversation, but what exactly is medical marijuana and why are we talking about it?

Medical cannabis, also known as medical marijuana, refers to cannabis used to treat and relieve conditions and symptoms as opposed to recreational use. Cannabis oil can be in liquid, pill or injected forms but cannot be smoked. Specifically, medical cannabis is an oil high in cannabidiol (CBD) and has very low concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component that makes users feel high. CBD is an antioxidant and does not cause the same high amongst users.

CBD is found to have particular applications as a neuroprotectant in limiting neurological damage following strokes or trauma. The small concentrations of THC serve as a therapeutic. Together, these two compounds are designed to treat many diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, HIV/AIDS, and provide therapy to reduce seizures, ease pain in a variety of debilitating diseases, allieviate symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, and relieve symptoms of cancer.

How does this affect Georgia?

The General Assembly is currently considering House Bill 1, a bill to legalize medical marijuana. The legislation, sponsored by Macon Representative Allen Peake, is motivated by families in his district and around the state needing access to medical marijuana. Peake has been particularly vocal about the importance of medical marijuana as a treatment for children suffering from debilitating seizure disorders. Cannabis oil has been shown to help epilepsy and seizure control by reducing seizures, improving cognitive ability, and reducing the use of other drugs.

HB 1 is also called “Haleigh’s Hope Act” named after Haleigh Cox, a 5-year-old girl in Peake’s district suffering from repeated and severe seizures. Haleigh’s parents have been advocating for the legalization of medical marijuana in Georgia. Haleigh and her mom moved to Colorado, one of 24 states where cannabis oil is a legal treatment, and she has seen remarkable benefits with seizures cut from hundreds per day to just three. She is also getting a full night of sleep instead of waking up frequently from seizures.

Despite the successful treatments, the experience has taken a toll on her family. Haleigh’s dad is still living in Georgia because he cannot afford to quit his job. Legalizing the treatment in Georgia would allow them to all be together again.

Currently, there are 17 families that have moved away from Georgia in search of cannabis oil for their children. These families are considered ‘medical refugees’ and most of them have moved to Colorado. Like Haliegh’s family, legalized treatments could reunite families and bring them home.

So, what exactly is included in HB 1?

HB 1 would permit use of cannabis oil for therapeutic and treatment purposes for a total of 18 medical conditions including cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s, seizure disorders and others.

The legalized medical cannabis oil would have a “stated maximum amount” of THC between 3-5 percent. This would be a low enough level of THC to be effective but to not get users high.

The use and possession of cannabis oil would be limited to registered patients through licensed, registered entities. The delivery must be nonsmoking through liquid, pills or injection.

For now, the cannabis oil will not be produced in Georgia. Patients would have to obtain the cannabis oil in states where it’s legal. However, Peake has proposed changes to the bill to create a commission to examine future establishment of a regulatory model for in-state growth and distribution. The commission would make recommendations to the legislature in December, and it would be comprised of medical professionals, pharmacists, law enforcement officials, Department of Agriculture personnel, lab experts and members of the governors’ leadership.

Peake introduced a similar bill legalizing medical marijuana last year, but it failed in the last moments of session. After it failed to pass, efforts to legalize medical marijuana began immediately during the summer when a study committee was organized to solicit feedback on the legislation. Peake’s work over the last year has led to the issue’s reemergence.

What’s next?

HB 1 has received widespread support with 100 co-sponsors on the bill and endorsements from the Medical Association of Georgia. As the legislation moves through the committee process, families as far away as Colorado will be watching to see if this bill is their ticket home.

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