Georgia took a major step earlier this year when the General Assembly passed H.B. 1 that allows people suffering from certain medical conditions to be treated with cannabis oil. Those conditions include cancer, seizure disorders, Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s disease, mitochondrial diseases, ALS, multiple sclerosis, and sickle cell disease.
I applaud Gov. Nathan Deal and my legislative colleagues for taking this bold action because that law is now improving the lives and health of families throughout our state. Clinical trials in Georgia are showing early promise with the treatment of cannabis oil. According to Dr. Yong Park, a neurologist leading the trials for Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia, seizures caused by epilepsy decreased up to 60% for children who use a specified cannabis-derived oil for at least 12 weeks.
The trials are part of the state’s Commission on Medical Cannabis, led by Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), which was created to study the effect of Georgia’s new law and whether it should be expanded. The Commission will make its recommendations by December 31.
However, H.B. 1 is only the first step if we are truly committed to helping loved ones treat their illnesses and diseases. Currently, the law does not provide access to the medicine. The oil must be obtained in another state and brought back to Georgia. Because cannabis product is illegal according to federal law, carrying it across state lines is against the law. So families who need this medicine have been forced to make a perilous choice: risk bringing the medicine in illegally or risk the health of a child. No one should be forced to make that type of choice.
Furthermore, many families cannot afford the cost of traveling to other states to purchase medical cannabis oil for their child or spouse. That isn’t right. No one should be denied the right to medicine based upon where one lives.
Therefore, like 23 other states that have enacted medical cannabis programs, we must now, through due diligence, create a strict regulatory structure to allow for the growth, production, and distribution of medical cannabis to our citizens who qualify from a doctor for qualifying medical conditions. As in other states, the medical cannabis will be safely produced and strictly regulated.
Understandably, this causes concern in the law enforcement community. Will this increase drug usage among the populace? Will this increase criminal activity? Will this lead to recreational use?
As the chair of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, I can assuredly say the answer to those questions are “No.”
Nearly half of the U.S. population live in states where medicinal cannabis is legal. Research shows it has not affected overall drug use. Furthermore, research proves that there has been no increase in either teen use or crime – and that permitting the use of medical cannabis may actually result in a decrease in traffic fatalities.
In the 23 other states, legal cannabis oil will improve and safe lives, while also allowing law enforcement to focus more of their time on violent crime. And that’s one reason violent crime is down in those states that already allow medical cannabis.
Let me be clear about one thing: virtually no one in the Georgia General Assembly or Governor Deal favors the legal recreational use of marijuana. That is a non-starter and has nothing to do with allowing people with qualified illnesses and disease access to medical cannabis.
As we debate a new law to permit the in-state growth, production, and distribution of medical cannabis, I want the law enforcement community – our sheriffs, police chiefs, and prosecutors – to know that I want you to have a seat at the table. I want your input on general security measures for these facilities and to establish minimum security compliance standards for the production and distribution, such as visual monitoring by recording devices, and intrusion detection system, or physical barriers to prevent unauthorized access to the cannabis.
We want to craft this legislation to ensure a regulated and safe system with a strict list of conditions for which medical cannabis can be used, including a cap on the amount that patients can possess and a limited number of licenses for those who can distribute the medicine.
Let’s have courage to do the right thing and not stand in between a doctor and a patient.
With law enforcement and the medical profession as partners, we can create effective public safety policy while also improving the lives and health of our loved ones.