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Thursday, March 13, 2014

'Medical marijuana' bill moves under Gold Dome but questions remain

The Gold Dome bill that would allow people to use cannabis oil to treat cancer, glaucoma, and seizure disorders appears likely to receive a vote on the Senate floor before the end of the session. But medical marijuana advocates have concerns over new changes to the legislation.

House Bill 885, introduced by Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, would enable patients to receive treatment under closely monitored studies by academic research institutions. The legislation reported favorably out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee yesterday and now heads to the Senate Rules Committee to await a floor vote.

The Senate version of the bill, in an apparent concession to critics, eliminates language in the original House bill allowing for academic research institutions to cultivate the drug and manufacture the derivatives.

Additionally, recently added language in the bill would make those carrying the marijuana derivative cannabidioal, or CBD immune from prosecution. Peake's earlier proposal to create nonprofit dispensaries so people could actually obtain the cannabis oil was shot down.

Rachelle Yeung, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project said the group is concerned with the limited access patients will have if the bill is approved. Yeung also said in most cases, successful marijuana legislation requires a state funding mechanism, which the bill does not address.

"We are disappointed that Rep. Peake's proposal to add two nonprofit medical dispensaries has been rejected by the Senate Health Committee," Yeung said. "This would have provided real, safe and legal access to medical marijuana for seriously ill Georgians... Instead suffering patients must continue to wait while the government experiments with a hospital-based model, which has already proven to be unworkable."

Yeung did praise the addition to the bill allowing patients, parents and caregivers immunity from prosecution. There is language in the bill making it illegal to transport the derivatives across state lines, which could pose problems for the bill down the road.

The Georgia Composite Medical Board will oversee the use of medicinal marijuana, in oil or pill form, if the legislation is enacted. The bill would still limit the number of patients who would qualify for the treatment and require multiple levels of approval before its use is allowed.

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