It looked for a moment earlier this year like Georgia might partially legalize medical marijuana. It didn't happen, but state Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) says he's gearing up to try again.
Peake got involved in the issue after he met a little girl in his district who suffers from debilitating seizures. Some doctors believe a non-intoxicating cannabis oil could help.
There already exists a 1980 law in Georgia that legalizes medical marijuana as a treatment for cancer and glaucoma.
“We were trying to piggyback off that legislation and add seizure disorders to the diagnoses that could be obtained,” Peake said.
His bill received broad bi-partisan support until other lawmakers tacked on an unrelated amendment that would have required Georgia insurers to cover certain autism treatments.
Peake says he hopes to get the bill passed quickly in the 2015 legislative session, before moving on to another bill that would create a legal infrastructure for producing medical marijuana in Georgia.
The only source that Georgia’s existing law sanctions is cannabis produced at the federal government’s research growing operation at the University of Mississippi.
“The problem is they’re not growing the cannabis at Ole Miss,” Peake said. “There’s a limited supply, there’s hardly any available, and there’s not the particular strand that's proven so successful with kids with seizure disorders.”
Peake takes Minnesota as his model, he said, which has “four or five dispensaries licensed, regulated by the state that would be allowed to be able to grow cannabis oil that can be given intravenously or taken orally."
However, Peake believes any state legislation will merely be a stop-gap measure, and that it will take federal action to fully legalize marijuana for medical use.
"The problem now is that the states are all doing a hodgepodge of different ideas,” Peake said.
"We need the federal government to really come through, and say, 'Hey marijuana needs to be taken off as a Schedule I drug,' meaning it can't be used for research, there's no medicinal purposes for it, and moved to a Schedule III or IV drug."
An example of a higher-schedule drug would be morphine, which is highly restricted but can still be used by doctors.
Peake acknowledged that his own party has been the primary roadblock to medical marijuana legislation at the federal level, though he thinks the tide is turning.
“Seven of the 13 members of our Georgia [congressional] delegation voted for an amendment that would de-fund the DOJ from prohibiting states in implementing their medical cannabis legislation,” Peake said.
“In the past, we would have had only Democrats. It was a mixed bag of Republicans and Democrats on that particular vote.”