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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Georgia's long overlooked medical marijuana law deserves a new hearing, GOP state senator says

State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus
After decades of sitting dormant, Georgia's medical marijuana program might finally get another look by state lawmakers. And you can partly thank Sanjay Gupta.

Several months ago, state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, was watching the CNN correspondent and Grady Hospital neurosurgeon's documentary on medical marijuana. In it, Gupta interviewed men and women suffering from medical conditions that could be treated with the plant. The topic intrigued McKoon.

"It hasn't come up while I've been here," McKoon, who was elected in 2010, told CL. "Then i started doing some more research found that Georgia passed [a medical marijuana law] in the early 1980s. Seems to me that we're long overdue, whether it's a series of hearings during the session or creating a study committee."

McKoon, an attorney who chairs the state Senate Judiciary Committee and is considered one of the state GOP's most talented youngsters, plans to call for hearings on the issue when the General Assembly starts its 40-day session next week.

"There are many many states that have adopted some form of allowance for medical marijuana application," says McKoon. "I felt it was past time to call for hearings to have that dialogue... [This is about] having a venue to separate fact from fiction on what the potential applications are out there. And see what other states' experiences have been."

As CL's reported in the past, Georgia was surprisingly a pioneer in medical marijuana. It's had a law on its books since the early 1980s. However, it only allows people battling cancer of glaucoma to use the plant. Other conditions are not covered. Regardless, the state's never taken the steps to effectively allow the use of medical marijuana, partly by not appointing the members of a board who'd oversee the program. Advocates have prodded the state over the years, and recently have been joined by a group of parents who want the state to allow them to use cannabis oil to help treat their children who are living with conditions such as Dravet syndrome.

Lawmakers could feasibly do so by amending the law. Across the country, more and more states are easing marijuana laws, even going as far as Colorado and outright legalizing the sale of the plant. Whether Georgia, which only recently decided to permit Sunday alcohol sales, would consider seriously allowing residents to use medical marijuana depends on what the public tells lawmakers.

The Georgia Christian Coalition is one group that would ostensibly express some concern over any consideration of expanding - or even actually carrying out - Georgia's medical marijuana law. Says Jerry Luquire, the group's executive director, channeling ee cummings in an email to CL:

any use of marijuana is against federal law.

ypu don't give a child alcohol to reduce pain.

why not campaign to have a
medical exception in federal law? certainly with somr
100,000 meds and compounds at
least one will work
if mj works as medicine some pharma would have made
medicines for legal sale

Marijuana advocates, however, are kicking their heels over McKoon's call to gather more info about the subject. So says James Bell of the Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform & Education, or CARE, a marijuana law reform advocacy group, in a statement:

"We're very excited over Sen. McKoon's willingness to study the feasibility of allowing cannabis therapeutics here is Georgia", said Bell. "When we see the pain and suffering of so many people who can be helped by this medicine, it's unconscionable that we would deny access to cannabis."

[...]

Bell said he has identified a number of legislators, both Republican and Democrat, willing to investigate the issue and some who out-right support the medical issue.

"Over the past year I have traveled across the state and talked to legislators, solicitors, medical professional and clergy and the support for medical marijuana is overwhelming. I wonder exactly who is in opposition to it."

McKoon, who says he's been inundated with emails from people who claim they're living with other conditions since a WSB-TV interview announcing his plans yesterday, stresses that he's not advocating the outright legalization of marijuana.

He says: "I do think that, if we have parents who have sick children and there's an opportunity for them to get some relief, and they're literally talking about moving to Colorado to take care of their children, I think that's a situation where we should ask ourselves as policymakers: does it make sense to have there be some legal access?"

McKoon says he's seeking the advice of the state Senate secretary on the proper procedure for calling for a hearing.

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