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Medical marijuana bill passes key hurdle in state legislature
Watered-down version still likely to face uphill battle in Senate
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ATLANTA — A bill to legalize cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders and seven other debilitating health problems passed a key committee in the Georgia House on Monday but faces an uphill battle in the state Senate, even in its latest, watered-down version.

Originally, the bill listed 17 conditions eligible for treatment with small amounts of cannabis oil, but that was whittled down to eight by its sponsor, Republican Rep. Allen Peake of Macon, who said it would have had no chance of passage in the House, much less the Senate.

“Still, we got eight diagnoses (in the bill) that will cover 500,000 people in the state,” said Peake after the measure was approved in a room in the Capitol packed with bill proponents. “It’s a very positive step in the right direction. This is a good thing for our citizens.”

Peake predicted the bill would pass the House Rules committee and the full House this week.

Earlier, he had discussed a bill allowing in-state growth of marijuana to manufacture the oil with low levels of THC — the chemical that can cause a “high” for some users — with Gov. Nathan Deal, who must sign any measure that passes both chambers.

Peake also said Deal would not have signed the original measure; many lawmakers contend he won’t sign it with eight. Deal, however, has said he would support a bill legalizing cannabis oil for some conditions. Peake said 23 other states allow it.

The current bill lists seizure disorders, cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s syndrome, mitochondrial disease, fibromyalgia and Parkinson’s disease.

Katie Harrison, 34, of Gillsville in Hall County, sat through the hearing with her son, Hawk, 2, on her lap. She said he had a brain hemorrhage at 3 weeks and has had frequent seizures ever since.

“I will have to move out of state if this doesn’t pass,” she said. “I’m here to fight for every child this oil can help.”

Peake said at least 17 Georgia families have moved to states where the oil is available, and Harrison said she will too if “I have to.” She said her son has been treated with the oil in California and “it worked, reducing seizures and their severity.”

Peake sought to calm fears “we could be headed down a slippery slope” to Colorado-style legalization of marijuana use. The bill calls for THC percentages of no more than 5 percent, “a THC level low enough that if it has some psychoactive effect, it will be very minimal.”

“An individual would have to get a recommendation from his physician saying that they had a designated diagnosis and the doctor recommends cannabis oil for that individual,” Peake said. “They would then obtain a registry card with the Department of Public Health, which would give them immunity for possession of the cannabis oil.”

He said the state has found a manufacturer that is willing to ship the oil to Georgia.

“This is the first bite of the apple,” he said. “There are other diagnoses that could be added, like autism and Tourette’s syndrome. But this is politics, and we have to keep it limited. And no matter what legislation we pass, somebody is going to oppose it.”

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