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State House, Senate split on new medical cannabis bill
Local lawmakers stake their position on proposal to allow in-state cultivation and distribution
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With hearings kicking off this week in the state legislature over a proposed bill to allow the in-state cultivation and distribution of medical cannabis, the line between supporters and opponents has become clear.

There appear to be enough votes in the House to pass the bill, but pushback in the Senate, as well as from Gov. Nathan Deal, could scuttle the proposal.

“There are aspects of it that are problematic,” Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said. “It’s much broader in scope than I am personally comfortable with.”

Reps. Carl Rogers, Emory Dunahoo and Lee Hawkins, all Gainesville Republicans, said they support the bill.

“It’ll be fixed properly,” Rogers said, adding that he believes restricting cultivation to one or two sites at the University of Georgia or the Medical College of Georgia will alleviate concerns.

Rogers did, however, acknowledge that much of law enforcement, including Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh, oppose the bill in its current form.

“From what we hear, law enforcement is our biggest opponent,” said Katie Harrison, a Hall County resident who treats her young son suffering from seizure disorders with cannabis oil.  

Lawmakers approved the use of cannabis oil last year to treat eight medical conditions.

The drug is known to have anti-anxiety effects, among other beneficial properties, and strains lack the levels of the psychoactive ingredient THC that gets marijuana smokers high.

But with no manufacturing and distribution of the drug within Georgia, some patients have been forced to break federal law by acquiring the drug out of state and transporting it back, according to advocates.

Advocates also want to expand the list of approved medical conditions that can be treated with the drug.

A commission charged with reviewing the prospect of cultivation recommended late last year that Deal oppose any expansion of the existing law.

Miller said he wants any profit motive curtailed and more safeguards in place.

“I will not go down any path that I believe leads to a recreational application of marijuana,” he added.  

Dunahoo, meanwhile, said there has to be a reasonable compromise to ensure patients can access the drug.  

“I just feel that if we look at this from the family’s standpoint … there is some kind of way we can make this work on a small scale for those who need it,” he added.