Monday, March 24, 2014

Medical marijuana bill fails despite overwhelming support

Posted By on Mon, Mar 24, 2014 at 3:47 PM

Before banging the gavel to close the session Speaker Ralston said of the state Senate They would rather make speeches than take care of Georgias children.
  • Joeff Davis
  • Before banging the gavel to close the session, House Speaker David Ralston said that the Georgia Senate "would rather make speeches than take care of Georgia's children."

Men, women, and children suffering from certain medical conditions will likely have to wait another year for legal medical marijuana treatment after state lawmakers failed to pass a major effort during the legislative session

H.B. 885, sponsored by state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, passed the House with overwhelming support. However, state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, attached another mandate to the measure requiring insurance companies to expand coverage to young people suffering from autism - an amendment with minimal support among state reps.

Peake tried to tack his medical marijuana legislation onto another bill, but the push reportedly ran out of time to pass it in the Senate. At the time the legislation failed to pass muster, House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, was critical of his colleagues' inaction on Sine Die last week.

"They have had that opportunity," Ralston told his fellow lawmakers on Thursday. "They would rather make speeches than take care of Georgia's children."

Peake introduced his bill in response to a growing number of Georgia residents who suffer from extreme seizure disorders that can be treated by cannabidiol (CBD), a compound found in marijuana with medical properties but no narcotic effects.

If passed, H.B. 885 would have made it legal for those suffering from seizure disorders, glaucoma, or cancer to enroll in a medical marijuana study at an academic research institution. The bill would have also made those enrolled in such studies, as well as parents or guardians, immune from prosecution if found with the drug.

Rachelle Yeung, a spokeswoman for the Marijuana Policy Project, tells CL it was a disappointment that a bill with such overwhelming support in both chambers "was held hostage to the political process, which ultimately led to its failure."

"It is unfortunate that lawmakers did not have the will this year to protect seriously ill Georgians from the risk of arrest and prosecution, simply for possessing a medicine that has been widely shown to reduce life-threatening seizures," Yeung says.

Even if the bill passed, many policy experts and medical marijuana advocates said the legislation had a host of problems that would have made it difficult for patients to access the drug.

Originally, H.B. 885 had language allowing those academic research institutions to cultivate the drug for use in the academic studies. But that language was later removed and meant that institutions would have needed to obtain the drug elsewhere. Without a state funding mechanism, some medical marijuana experts said it was unlikely the program would be financially feasible long-term.

Yeung said even with funding most hospitals are unlikely to implement the studies and distribute the drug because it would still be illegal under federal law. Maryland, for example, has five academic medical centers allowed to distribute medical marijuana but none of them are doing so because of fear of federal prosecutions.

Gov. Nathan Deal waited until after this year's legislative session to comment on the medical marijuana debate. Deal told the Associated Press that he was moved by the testimony from children and residents who were affected by severe seizure disorders. Deal added that he intends to work with state agency heads "to see if there is something that we can do to make this treatment possible."

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