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Our Views: For medicinal use only
Push to legalize cannabis oil remedy should not be overshadowed by other marijuana bills
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. The Times editorial board includes Publisher Charlotte Atkins, General Manager Norman Baggs and Editor Keith Albertson.

Most Americans of Baby Boomer age and younger were exposed to marijuana at some point in early adulthood, whether they partook or not on their own. For many, it was a rite of passage encountered at a rock concert or someone’s dark basement. For others, it was a substance and a crowd of users best avoided.

What once was an underground indulgence is coming out of the shadows as many states consider ending the criminal ban on pot for various uses. Yet beyond the comical images of Cheech and Chong’s van made of hemp or toking teens on “That 70s Show,” there is a valid medicinal use for marijuana that can get lost in the shuffle.

And that could happen in next year’s Georgia General Assembly, where bills to legalize the substance are lining up and may loom as one of the hot topics when the new session begins in January.

At one level, lawmakers have begun hearings to discuss the use and benefits of cannabis oil to treat seizure disorders. A Joint Study Committee on Prescription of Medical Cannabis for Serious Medical Conditions, which includes Hall County Sen. Butch Miller, is continuing to vet such concerns. Its goal is to craft a bill that specifically addresses concerns about how the drug is grown, harvested and distributed for that targeted purpose.

A similar bill was introduced in the last session but failed to make it to the governor’s desk. Though passed by a large margin by both the House and Senate, a last-minute amendment connecting the bill to funding for autism treatment scuttled it for the year. Now it’s back, and supporters hope it makes it into law next year.

For many families, a move to legalize the drug would be welcomed and long overdue. They swear by its use to help children who suffer from seizures and related problems. Cannabis oil comes in pill form and does not contain a high amount of THC, the ingredient that causes the marijuana high. It does provide anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety remedies, though medical research continues into its effectiveness and safety.

Some parents who need it to treat their children have left the state to seek locales where it is legally available. Georgia’s bill would allow these “medical refugees” to return home for treatment.

As with any newly introduced pharmaceutical, due diligence is needed to ensure the benefits outweigh the side effects. Ideally, that decision should be made first by medical researchers, then decided between patients and doctors, with legal considerations not blocking their way.

But law enforcement agencies are concerned that allowing the drug in any form will lead to further legalization. They’re also concerned about the growing and harvesting of the plant to ensure it doesn’t wind up in the wrong hands. And they point out marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which would conflict with any state statutes.

The Georgia proposal would be specifically targeted to allow only the oil form of cannabis treatment and not open the door toward further use. Any drug with a positive medical application can be abused as well, and clear lines should be drawn. For instance, the pain reliever morphine and other medications originate from opium, as does the narcotic “street drug” heroin.

However, competing bills concerning marijuana legalization could cloud the issue for lawmakers and the public.

Another proposal would legalize smoking pot for medicinal purposes such as glaucoma, appetite disorders and other maladies. The proposal also would allow such patients to “grow their own” for such use. So far, 23 states have legalized and regulated such use.

And then there is the idea of legalizing the drug completely, which four states have done so far while others consider it. Such a bill likely won’t get far in Georgia, at least not yet, but could again confuse many over the drug’s medicinal value.

On that topic, many libertarians feel the criminalization of marijuana has worse effects than the drug itself. They argue enforcement of anti-pot laws has taken up resources for law enforcement departments and filled prisons with nonviolent offenders, all at taxpayer expense. They believe legalizing and taxing the drug would remove the criminal element, as with alcohol Prohibition in the early 20th century. The debate rages over whether marijuana is a dangerous gateway substance or no more harmful than booze or tobacco.

Yet that’s a different discussion that shouldn’t muddle the cannabis oil issue. For the sake of those families who desperately need this drug now, a bill should be crafted that addresses law enforcement concerns but gives doctors and patients the tools they need to treat seizure-plagued patients. Further debate over expanding legalization can wait until more research is conducted and Georgians can weigh the consequences of such a move.

No one should have to suffer needlessly because of political posturing as long as responsible steps are taken to legalize marijuana strictly as a medicine and not as a lifestyle.

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