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Wednesday, January 22, 2014 - 7:23am

State Lawmakers Start Conversation On Legalizing Medical Marijuana

Inside the Capitol Tuesday, the Senate gave first reading to a bill that would create a study committee on the issue of legalizing medical marijuana in Georgia.

But outside of the building, dozens of people were pushing for even more reform, lined up on the steps to show their support for legalizing marijuana use in Georgia.

36-year–old John Palmour of Canton says he suffers from Behcet’s disease, an autoimmune disorder and currently buys marijuana on the black market.

“Without medicinal marijuana, basically I have to take three or four different steroids and several different pain medications, which come with severe side effects,” he said.

Palmour says he and other supporters on the Capitol steps are for all forms of marijuana reform, and want to help educate state lawmakers on the benefits on medical marijuana.

"Nobody wants to feel like a criminal. Nobody wants to hide in the shadows or be in the closet just because something allows them to function and with any sort of legislation opening the door to this potential here in Georgia is a wonderful thing."

Palmour and others delivered a petition to Governor Nathan Deal's office containing 15,000 signatures in support of marijuana reform.

But there is already some support inside the Capitol.

Senator Josh McKoon of Columbus is sponsoring a bill that would set up a medical marijuana study committee.

He says lawmakers should hear from medical experts, law enforcement and others on how to change Georgia's laws effectively.

"If you're literally in a situation where we've put up legal barriers that are causing people to move out of state so that their children can receive the medicine they need, I think it's important that we take a step back, study the policy, look at the new information and see if there's an appropriate change that needs to be made,” said McKoon.

McKoon says the committee could make recommendations to lawmakers as soon as next year, but legalization could be on the fast track.

Representative Allen Peake of Macon plans to file a medical marijuana bill as soon as this week.

"I've just made it my mission. I'm going to do everything I can to help these families alleviate the pain and suffering,” said Peake. “We've got an opportunity here and I'm going to work hard to try and get it done."

Both McKoon and Peake stress that their interest is purely in medical marijuana. Neither lawmaker supports legalizing the drug for recreational use.