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Law officials express cautious support for medical marijuana
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State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, listens to testimony from Georgia Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director J. Terry Norris and President of the Board of Directors Wiley Griffin at a hearing of the Joint Study Committee on Prescription of Medical Cannabis for Serious Medical Conditions on Wednesday at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville.

While expressing support for limited use of medical marijuana, law enforcement officials from across the state Wednesday warned of a slippery slope leading to legalized recreational use.

Their warning came during a hearing at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville of the Joint Study Committee on Prescription of Medical Cannabis for Serious Medical Conditions.

State lawmakers are considering allowing the use of cannabis oil — which contains anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety cannibidiols but is free of THC, the psychoactive ingredient that gets people high — to treat children with seizure disorders.

“There continues to be tremendous interest on the part of the medical community, families, patients and law enforcement about the prospect of creating a very narrowly defined and narrowly administered cannibidiol oil treatment for seizure disorders in children up to the age of 16,” said state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, who sits on the committee.

Mike Hopkins, a Covington resident, attended the hearing with his special needs children. He said he hoped to put a face to the issue.

Hopkins’ young son passed away just a month ago from seizures, and Hopkins said he has spoken with parents who have children suffering seizures who report remarkable improvements resulting from the use of cannabis oil.

“We’re kind of out of options,” he said.

Law enforcement officials, including representatives from the Georgia Sheriff’s Association and Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, said while they understood the need for treating epileptic children and other seizure disorders with medical marijuana, they expressed concern about how the state will regulate cultivation and distribution.

Law officers said they opposed any smokable form of medical marijuana and cautioned that other states allowing medical marijuana use have expanded this right for all segments of the population.

But Maj. Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, pushed back against these concerns.

Citing studies that show legalization and decriminalization of marijuana use actually reduce crime by eliminating the black market trade of the drug, as well as studies that show education and treatment, rather than criminal penalties, are the best method to address substance abuse, Franklin urged the committee to consider ways to appropriately regulate legal use of marijuana.

Franklin, a veteran of the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department who oversaw drug task forces, also said the war on drugs has been a failure, sucking dry limited government resources in an unwinnable battle that unfairly prejudices minorities and ruins the lives of Americans committing nonviolent crimes.

Franklin told the committee that comprehensive reform of drug laws is needed to address these inequities.

Miller, however, said lawmakers have no appetite for legalization or expanded use of medical marijuana.

“... Caution is the bedrock of progress, and if we expand this to any degree, we will create an atmosphere that is unproductive and very unlikely for passage within our legislature,” he added.

The committee will hold additional hearings across the state through early December and is charged with examining the medical benefits of cannabis oil and making recommendations for the drafting of legislation allowing for prescription use.

Jeremy Sharp, a student at North Georgia University who founded the school’s Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter, said he’s skeptical about the committee’s intentions and questions whether it is just paying lip service to the issue.

“The legislators need to recognize that they are not doctors and that the final say should between doctors and patients,” he said. “I’m afraid that special interests will win in these particular hearings though. This hearing was established specifically for (cannibodiol) research and access. This is a gubernatorial decision meant to quell the issue.”

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