Since last Friday, I have read headlines and social media posts that HB 1, the bill attempting to legalize medical cannabis in Georgia, had been gutted, or was dead. Let me assure you, that is the furthest thing from the truth.
There were two main objectives in HB 1. The first was to provide immediate immunity from prosecution for the possession of cannabis oil in Georgia. This would allow the 17 Georgia families who have moved to another state to obtain medical cannabis oil for their children to come home without fear of arrest or having DFCS show up at their door to take their child away. The second objective was to implement a comprehensive regulatory structure, so medical cannabis could be cultivated, processed, and distributed in a safe, timely, and effective manner in Georgia.
After intense discussions with Governor Deal, the decision was made to delay the in-state growth model for a year for more study to make sure we get it right. So the solution was create a commission that would be tasked with one objective – to make a recommendation by December 2015 to the governor and the legislature of what is the best model for dispensing medical cannabis in Georgia. This commission will be made up of medical professionals, pharmacists, law enforcement, Department of Agriculture personnel, lab experts, and members of the governor’s leadership team. I am hoping to be very closely involved in this commission as well. Obviously, this is not a guarantee that the General Assembly will move on the commission’s recommendations in 2016, however I am confident that action will be taken to implement an in-state growth model very early in the 2016 legislative session.
The governor also agreed to support the passage of HB 1, which will include complete immunity for families and citizens who possess cannabis oil, with less than 5 percent THC (the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant) for those who have been diagnosed by a physician with certain medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, ALS, seizure disorders, MS, Crohn’s disease, Mitochondrial disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, PTSD, autism, sickle cell anemia, Tourette syndrome, muscle spasticity disorders, fibromyalgia, and terminal illnesses. All of these medical conditions have seen positive results from cannabis oil. This is the compassionate and positive move for our state by allowing citizens in pain to make the personal decision with their physician to access cannabis oil that can ease their suffering.
Clearly, there are still challenges to gaining access to cannabis oil, even with immunity in place inside Georgia. Transporting cannabis across state lines is still a violation of federal law, and many families and citizens fear the potential of being arrested. Therefore, we have come up with 4 different options for Georgia citizens:
1. We have had discussions with a cannabis oil manufacturer in a legal state that is prepared to ship a strain of cannabis oil that is so low in THC that it is considered hemp. This strain has been used by many of the families who have children that suffer from seizures with amazing results – reduced seizures, improved cognitive ability, and reduction of FDA drugs. I have been assured that if our immunity language passes, this manufacturer will begin shipping to Georgia immediately. This will allow most of our medical refugees to come home, and will allow access for hundreds of Georgia’s children who suffer from seizures. This is a very real and viable option.
2. There are several neighboring states that are very close to producing a strain of cannabis oil that is very similar to the product currently being used in Colorado, which, again, will be considered hemp. Therefore many of our families and citizens will have the ability to legally obtain the oil from these states, drive back to Georgia, and have immunity once they are back inside our borders.
3. We will ask Governor Deal to seek an exemption from the DEA and Justice Department to ship cannabis oil from another state to a state agency in Georgia to be distributed on a compassionate need basis. This is similar to what other states have requested with the most being Governor Cuomo in New York.
4. And finally, it may be time for some civil disobedience. Not by parents who need to be with their sick child, but by citizens like me. I am fully prepared to risk going to jail to get medicine for these children with seizure disorders. Maybe it will take someone like me getting arrested to show the lunacy of a federal law that allows me to be in possession of cannabis oil legally in Colorado, and in Georgia, but be arrested because I am traveling with the oil through Kansas. Maybe that is what it will take, and I am willing to pursue this option, if our first three fail to deliver to our citizens.
The fight for medical cannabis is Georgia is far from over, but we are moving in a very positive direction.