This spring, in an emotional ceremony surrounded by courageous parents of children with epilepsy, Gov. Nathan Deal signed HB 1, Haleigh’s Hope Act, which allowed Georgia citizens with eight debilitating illnesses, who are properly registered with the state, to legally possess medical cannabis oil. To date, over 400 hurting Georgians have signed up for the registry. And not a day goes by that I don’t hear of the success that medical cannabis oil is having in improving the quality of life for our hurting Georgians. A recent poll showed that 86% of our citizens approved of this bill. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that all of those citizens still face a major hurdle — access to a safe, lab tested, effective product here in our own state. Some have been able to find a manufacturer who will ship the oil to Georgia, but what happens if that manufacturer is shut down, or stops shipping the product? Others have traveled to another state to obtain the product, and risked arrest returning to Georgia. While many are willing to take this risk for the health benefits for themselves or a loved one, others cannot for obvious financial, logistical or legal reasons.
That is why it is crucial for us as lawmakers to pass legislation next session that will take away the potential criminal consequences for hurting Georgians attempting to access a product that is now legal within our own borders.
In fact, the same poll mentioned above found that 84 percent of all Georgians and 79 percent of registered Republican primary voters support expanding the law to permit the production and distribution of medical cannabis oil under strict regulation and security in Georgia. No other issue in our state unites our citizens like this issue. And that’s because a debilitating illness like cancer, ALS, or epilepsy is non-partisan. Hurting Georgians are black, white, Republican, Democrat and Independent. And they all want is access to medicine that can potentially change the quality of their lives. And it is our moral responsibility as lawmakers to make sure there is a safe, timely, and effective method to obtain this medicine.
There have been concerns that this is just a step toward legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. Let me state again, as I have done numerous times, I will not support, and will in fact fight, any attempt to legalize marijuana for recreational usage, as has been done in Colorado. And I am confident that a majority of my colleagues feel the same.
Law enforcement has also expressed their fear that in-state production of medical cannabis oil will lead to higher crime, and that it will be difficult to control. While I have tremendous respect for our brave law enforcement officials, the fact of the matter is that illegal pot is being grown and sold in our state every day right now. Why not strictly regulate it so that those who are truly hurting, and want access for the right medical reasons, can be assured that they are getting a safe, consistent product to help them deal with the ravages of their illness? And I, for one, believe that our law enforcement is up to the task of helping us control a limited infrastructure for growing and distributing medical cannabis oil.
Some have said there is not enough demand for businesses to invest in building a growth/distribution facility under our current law. I have personally spoken to several companies, some who have testified at our commission hearings that are fully prepared to invest millions if licensed to grow medical cannabis oil in Georgia, even under the current parameters of our law.
The time has come. We must provide safe and legal access to medical cannabis oil in Georgia, under a tightly regulated, very restricted model, similar to the model in Minnesota. Every hurting Georgian who suffers from a debilitating illness deserves that option. That is our job as legislators. That is our moral obligation as leaders. That is our responsibility as fellow citizens. Let’s get it done, and do it right.
HB 1 was passed because parents of sick children lobbied diligently for their kids. I challenge the citizens of this state to now speak up and voice your support for providing access to medical cannabis here in our great state for our hurting citizens.
Rep. Allen Peake represents the citizens of District 141, which includes portions of Bibb and Monroe counties. He was elected into the House of Representatives in 2006, and currently serves as the Secretary and Treasurer of the House Majority Caucus, the Vice Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, and the Ex-Officio of the Appropriations Committee. He also serves on the Health & Human Services, Rules, and Small Business Development committees.