[su_pullquote]”It has not become a public health risk. It has not become a public safety issue. The law in place has worked as intended.” – Rep. Allen Peake[/su_pullquote] Three bills related to marijuana and a House Resolution intended to let voters have a say on the in-state cultivation of marijuana were introduced in the Georgia Legislature during this legislative session, and as of midnight on Friday, March 3, also known as Crossover Day, each of the bills either passed from one legislative body to the other, or failed to advance by not receiving enough votes. Here’s how each 2017 marijuana bill has played out so far.
House Bill 65 could increase safe access to cannabis oil
Two weeks ago, the Georgia Senate passed Senate Bill 16 to expand the medical marijuana laws in the state to include autism in the list of conditions eligible for cannabis recommendation; however, the same bill aims to reduce the concentration of THC in cannabis oil from 5% to 3%. Lawmakers in the Senate said they felt that higher THC levels poses a public health risk. Cannabis advocates just don’t see it that way, so Representative Allen Peake, a main contributory to seeing Georgia’s medical marijuana measure advance, introduced House Bill 65. The bill leaves the allowable amount of THC at 5 percent while also adding eight more conditions to the list of those that qualify for medical cannabis oil.
In defense of the bill before his House Rules Committee colleagues, Peake stated, “It has not become a public health risk. It has not become a public safety issue. The law in place has worked as intended.” He’s referring to the over 1,300 Georgians who are signed up to receive cannabis oil with a doctor’s recommendation. Peake stipulates that the bill is not intended to allow marijuana to be grown in Georgia, or smoked. It merely preserves a law that has had positive benefits for those affected by chronic medical conditions and builds on that law to make it even more inclusive.
Low-THC oil first became available in Georgia in April 2015 when Governor Nathan Deal signed the Haleigh’s Hope Act to allow the oil to be recommended by doctors for the treatment of cancer, seizure disorders, MS, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Sickle cell disease, and mitochondrial disease.
Now, patients with Tourette’s syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, epidermolysis bullosa, Alzheimer’s disease, HIV/AIDS, autoimmune disease and peripheral neuropathy have an opportunity for access to this alternative form of therapeutic medicine—one that boasts fewer side effects than comparable drugs. The only condition that was in the original bill but removed in committee was PTSD. Of course, advocates are unhappy about this exemption, but lawmakers contend that the definition of a PTSD diagnosis is currently too broad, but if more definitive definitions are applied to the diagnostic criteria the disorder would be considered.
The bill would also remove the requirement for medical marijuana patients to live in Georgia for one year before they are eligible for a cannabis oil recommendation from their doctor. That means more patients could qualify for this treatment, even to allow visitors to the state with written doctors recommendations to possess oil in Georgia while they are there. House Bill 65 has been approved by a 156-6 vote in the House and will be sent over to the Senate where it will be considered against Senate Bill 16, which was passed in a 41-12 vote.
Senate Bill 105 will not take pressure off Georgia’s criminal justice system
The other Senate bill is one that reflects a significant change in attitudes of Georgia lawmakers and citizens toward marijuana. Senate Bill 105, sponsored by Sen. Harold Jones II, doesn’t legalize the possession or distribution of the drug but will reduce sentencing for anyone caught with up to 2 ounces of marijuana from a felony to a misdemeanor. Jones points out that the cost of continuing to regulate marijuana as a felony outweighs the benefits of punishing these crimes to such an extent.
Currently, anyone possessing more than one ounce of marijuana is classified as a felony in the state of Georgia. Under his bill, however, Jones says that if the marijuana is intended for personal use, the reduced sentencing will apply.
Of course, marijuana possession would still be a criminal offense, and people found in violation of the law could still be arrested. But the punishment for the offense would be capped at a maximum of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine, or a year of community service. Unfortunately SB254 failed to make it from the Senate to the House on Crossover.
No cultivation referrendum for Georgia voters this year
House Resolution 36 is another of Peake’s sponsored bills, meant to allow the cultivation of marijuana in Georgia and to tax the sales of medical marijauna. Right now, cannabis oil must cross state lines to supply the 1,300 or so Georgians who qualify for it. If it had passed, HR36 would have allowed voters to decide whether or not to allow in-state cultivation of medical marijuana and production of low THC cannabis oil.
HR36 did not make it through the House this session, so whether the resolution will become inactive or be amended to a live bill later this year has yet to be decided.