February 2, 2014

Medical marijuana: good idea, bad execution

More than 30 years ago, Georgia lawmakers legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes for those with glaucoma and cancer. But the board created to oversee that program has been inactive for some two decades and no patients have taken part in the program for even longer.

What happened?

Simply put, the program was too restrictive, too regulated and too poorly thought out. That is, if its purpose was actually to deliver relief to patients.

The program counted on getting access to medical marijuana from the federal government, which never delivered. The program set up all sorts of hurdles and tests for patients to qualify for treatment, rather than just allowing their physicians to determine whether marijuana might help them and prescribe it if they thought best.

Now, the General Assembly is considering reviving that program and expanding it. A bill by Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, would add severe seizures to the list of conditions allowed in the program and permit them to be treated with cannabis oil.

The bill suffers from all the problems of Georgia’s existing medical marijuana program, including uncertainty about where the state will get the cannabis oil from.

Peake says it can get it from suppliers in states such as Colorado, which has legalized marijuana for recreational as well as medicinal purposes. But transferring cannabis oil across state lines remains a federal crime. Will suppliers in states where marijuana is legal risk federal prosecution?

Peake’s bill is also overly bureaucratic, allowing the cannabis oil to only be prescribed and distributed at the state’s medical colleges. The vast majority of doctors would remain unable to legally prescribe marijuana.

We expect that if Peake’s bill passes, it will be no more effective at relieving the suffering of the patients it purports to help than the state’s existing medical marijuana program.

Georgia lawmakers may truly want to help those suffering from severe seizures, but that is outweighed by their fear that someone somewhere might smoke a joint.

Certainly, some states have enacted medical marijuana laws so broad that they have effectively legalized all marijuana use. Georgia lawmakers want to avoid that.

But if other states’ medical marijuana laws basically legalized the drug, that’s what the authors of those laws probably intended. If Georgia has thoughtful, intelligent lawmakers, they should be able to craft a law that really can allow all patients who need medical marijuana to obtain it but doesn’t allow too much abuse of that privilege.

Surely, lawmakers can find some middle ground between a medical marijuana program so narrow that it is doomed to failure and one so broad that it invites widespread abuse.

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