State lawmakers are currently debating an update to the state's long-dormant "medical marijuana" law to make cannabis oil available to children suffering from epilepsy and other conditions. But Paul Cornwell, a longtime marijuana activist and founder of the Great Atlanta Pot Festival, argues that what's happening under the Gold Dome doesn't involve "medical marijuana" at all - and could set back the actual movement to make the plant widely available. Cornwell is the national coordinator of the Coalition for the Abolition of Marijuana Prohibition, or CAMP.
Last year was a remarkable one for cannabis reformers. Documentary programs such as "Weed Wars" and "Weed Country" helped the public become aware that there was more to the War on Drugs than they'd been led to believe.
Then came the announcement from CNN chief medical correspondent and Grady Memorial Hospital neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta that cannabis did indeed have a medical use. On TV, he said the federal government had misrepresented the facts for more than 70 years. The public began to listen.
Over the past 20 years, just as many states and the District of Columbia have changed their laws to allow the medical use of cannabis. There's now a process for distribution of cannabis products to treat a myriad of ailments such as nausea from chemotherapy, glaucoma, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's Disease, and more. Two states have chosen outright legalization. Others are soon to follow.
In Georgia, we're hearing whispers of "medical marijuana reform." But things couldn't be farther from the truth. Not many people are aware that the Georgia General Assembly unanimously passed the "Medical Marijuana Necessities Act" in 1980 to create a research program and allow "compassionate relief" for patients suffering from glaucoma and nausea caused by cancer chemotherapy.
The law contained no mechanism for funding. Not long after, the state abandoned the program when the feds stopped supplying cannabis to all but a handful of patients. It has remained dormant for 34 years.
In 2010, the law was renamed the "Controlled Therapeutic Substance Act" and revived the program by calling for applications from the medical community to establish a Patient Qualification & Review Board (PQRB), that would rule on whether applicants would qualify for treatment, authorize their doctors, and maintain research records for medical marijuana treatments. Under the law, cannabis could be provided by the state's pharmacies under the supervision of the Georgia Pharmacy Board. The cannabis could even be grown, manufactured, and distributed by a state-approved pharmacy.
If fully implemented, the law would have revealed that cannabis is an effective therapy for many ailments. Under House Bill 885, there is no qualified board of medical professionals there to approve the people who would be treated. Nor is there anyone responsible for maintaining a research program to study the benefits of cannabis therapy. Under the 2010 rewrite of the medical marijuana program there was at least a glimmer hope, that once the PQRB was established and funded, the program and the number of ailments to be treated could be expanded.
None of that happened. Even now, the state pharmacy board and the Georgia Drug and Narcotics Agency are impeding cannabis medicine that could be made legally available for a research program. The latter, as required by law, refuses to make recommendations to the General Assembly to reschedule Dronabinol to a Schedule III status, which would allow it to be made available to such study programs. The organically derived medicine is a generic form of Marinol, or synthetic THC, a legally prescribed drug in Georgia. This drug would benefit hundreds of patients in Georgia right now.
What's gone missing from most of the press coverage here is the fact that CBD-rich hemp oil is already legal without prescription and remains available in Georgia.
The recent attention to cannabis as a treatment for childhood seizures has amplified a discussion among hundreds, if not thousands, of parents looking for a successful treatment for their children's conditions. Multiple states have started a process to approve legislation enabling this "CBD-rich cannabis oil," or cannabidiol, to become legally available. The oil contains little or no THC, the psychoactive ingredient that gets a person "high," and has a miraculous effect on the quality of life for hundreds of children nationwide.
Now comes an emotional lobby by parents who support House Bill 885, known as "Haleigh's Hope Act." Named after one of the children who would've benefitted from the treatment, the measure allows medical cannabis to be used to relieve suffering of the state's most innocent and vulnerable citizens. Though well intended, this bill falls into the same bureaucratic snafu as the 1980 law creating the medical marijuana.
The law intends to provide a cannabis remedy to children by way of a bill that has no mechanism for funding. It provides no legal source of the drug and no allowance for a state pharmacy to participate in the production of the CBD-infused oil.
At the last minute, language was added to the bill to include the prior approved ailments of nausea relief and glaucoma. But this bill is still inadequate. The legislation fails to mention anything about having a doctor's advice regarding to best treatment for patients and their ailments.
There's a chance the law will never succeed in providing even one patient relief from the deleterious condition of epilepsy. The state sat on its hands for 34 years while thousands of patients entitled to "compassionate relief" suffered. Most have died without any relief at all. What makes anyone think this bill will be any different?
The application of cannabis therapies should be in the hands of physicians and their patients, not the drug and narcotic agency - or whoever else has been tasked with oversight. The existing program provides legal immunity for patients, doctors, and should be expanded to treatment of the larger number of ailments that could benefit from cannabis. That research protocol should provide an educated and documented record for such treatments that would be available to make recommendations to the General Assembly. Cannabis in all its forms should be available to "patients out of time."
Optimism abounds in the media and by many well-meaning cannabis activists. But there are only a few voices for lessening criminal penalties for cannabis possession under the Gold Dome. As the American Civil Liberties Union points out, Fulton and DeKalb counties are the worst offenders in the country for discriminatory arrests and imprisoning of minorities for possession of cannabis. There's strong resistance from proponents of this bill to even consider other cannabis reform efforts.
Everyone wants to save the children. But what about your mom, your father, your family or friends - people who could also benefit from medical marijuana? Or from unnecessary legal repercussions that could be solved with simple decriminalization?
The realization is that the parents and legislators are coming to ask for the benefits of a miracle medicinal plant, cannabis. All the misdirection in the world won't negate the fact that 'she' - cannabis - will grant what they seek.
CAMP, the Coalition for the Abolition of Marijuana Prohibition, opposes implementation of HB 885 as written.
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