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Why Georgia needs medical cannabis

POSTED: April 3, 2014 6:25 p.m.

When the 2014 General Assembly session began 10 short weeks ago, the odds of a medical cannabis bill passing this year would have been longer than having a perfect March Madness bracket in Vegas, because no one was crazy enough to take that bet.

But by the time the last day of the legislative session arrived, the issue of legalizing cannabidiol oil in Georgia to help children with seizure disorders had picked up such momentum and popularity that its passage seemed almost a certainty. But, despite the overwhelming support, the effort failed on the last night. Many people have asked me what in the heck happened?

I am as frustrated as anyone that a bill that would provide relief for sick children and hope for their parents and had near unanimous support in both the House and Senate isn’t now on the way to the governor’s desk. It would be easy to point fingers at others, and in my frustration that option is very tempting to call out those few that blocked this bill, but placing blame at this point is useless.

Instead, I want to thank my  many courageous colleagues in the House and Senate whose hearts were changed, and who eventually wholeheartedly supported this effort, especially Speaker David Ralston.

Our focus from here on must remain on getting these children the help they need and bringing the Georgia families home who have left our state to seek cannabidiol oil where it is legal. Simply put, this oil is a potential life saver, and it is improving the lives of so many already in other states where it has been legalized.  Meet three children who have left our great state to move to Colorado.

Hunter Klepinger is 8 years old. He moved with his mom, dad and brother from Cobb County to Colorado last November, away from loving grandparents who were actively involved in his daily life, and started taking cannabidiol oil right before Thanksgiving.

Since then, Hunter’s seizures have decreased more than 60 percent. He had horrible clusters of seizures, convulsing for up to 10 minutes, almost daily. Those clusters are now under 2 minutes and the last one was February 19, over a month ago. He’s calmer and happier than ever. His life quality is drastically better. The Klepingers desperately want to move back home to Georgia.

Four-year-old Haleigh, the inspiration behind Haleigh’s Hope Act, HB 885, moved to Colorado with her Mom from Monroe County over two weeks ago. She has now been taking cannabidiol oil for over a week  and had just four seizures Tuesday, down from 200-plus a week ago. She is more alert and has started smiling again. Her mom has not seen her daughter smile since she was 2 years old.

This may seem very minor, but for a child that can only lay there and have seizure after seizure, this is worth celebrating!  The sad part for this family is that Haleigh’s mom, Janea, is in Colorado by herself. Haleigh’s dad, Brian, has to stay in Georgia in order to keep his job, which means that they will be separated during this critical time in Haleigh’s life. We need to bring them home.

And then there’s 10-year-old Caden. He still has seizures every day and frequently enters “status epilepticus,” a seizure lasting longer than five minutes. This last hope treatment of medical cannabis brought their family to Colorado. The seizures control Caden’s life and in turn, his family’s. Caden’s mom and brother are now living in Colorado while their father, a 26-year veteran with the Atlanta Police Department, is still in Georgia working to provide for their family. Yes, they are separated by over 1,500 miles.

These three children are only the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of families that will become medical refugees in Colorado if we don’t act. But more importantly, children will die if we don’t take action soon. There is good news, though. Governor Nathan Deal announced this week he will seek potential options for an executive order that offers an immediate solution. These families deserve that and we must keep fighting for them.

State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) represents District 141 and is a member of the House Health and Human Services Committee.

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