February 27, 2014

Still true

The Daily Citizen

— A bill before the state Legislature that would legalize one form of medical marijuana for one group of patients passed an important hurdle on Wednesday. But not without undergoing some changes.

The House Health and Human Services Committee approved a bill by Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, that would allow a type of cannabis oil to be prescribed for severe seizure disorders. Parents of children with those disorders as well as physicians report dramatic improvements when the children have been treated with cannabis oil.

But before the bill passed, Peake was forced to amend it to legalize the cultivation of marijuana and the production of cannabis oil by the state’s medical schools. The bill had originally counted on obtaining cannabis oil from states that have already legalized marijuana, such as Colorado. But federal law prohibits shipping cannabis oil across state lines, and producers in those states said they weren’t willing to take the legal risk of shipping cannabis oil to Georgia.

We predicted almost a month ago that obtaining cannabis oil from outside the state would be a problem, even as the bill’s supporters insisted it would not.

At the time, we also said Peake’s bill, while well intentioned, was ultimately too narrow and too bureaucratic. It’s basically an expansion of a state program that has existed for some 30 years that allows patients with glaucoma and cancer to obtain medical marijuana. But that program never got off the ground, and the board that is supposed to oversee it has been inactive for most of the past two decades.

In part, the problem was an issue of supply. The program counted on getting medical marijuana from the federal government. But even if the feds had supplied the medical marijuana, it isn’t clear that the program would have benefited many people. It didn’t simply allow doctors to prescribe the drug to those who had the conditions it covered. The bill forced the individuals to get prescriptions from and obtain the marijuana directly from the state’s medical colleges, just as Peake’s bill would do for cannabis oil.

State lawmakers say they don’t want medical marijuana legalization to become de facto legalization of recreational marijuana. And we suspect many Georgians don’t want that either.

At the same time, the legislators need to recognize that many patients, and doctors, believe the plant can help a wide variety of illnesses. And the legislators need to realize that seriously ill patients may not be able to complete a complicated process to obtain the drug.

We wrote earlier that “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.”

We still believe that to be true.