ATLANTA - An effort to bring medical marijuana to Georgia under certain circumstances gained momentum Tuesday, as more than 80 lawmakers signed on to sponsor a bill introduced by a member of the Republican House leadership.
In introducing the bill, Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, was joined by parents of children suffering from medical conditions who say the use of cannabis oil could ease their children's symptoms and improve their quality of life.
"It will be a monumental task to get this bill done," said Peake, who serves as secretary/treasurer for the House Majority Caucus. "But if we can do it this session, for these parents and these kids, it will be worth every ounce of political influence I have to get it done."
Peake said the bill, known as "Haleigh's Hope Act," would revive a long-dormant research program allowing academic institutions to distribute medical marijuana to those suffering from specific medical conditions. Haleigh Cox is a young girl who suffers from a medical condition that causes severe seizures, and Peake was spurred to draft the bill after meeting with her and her parents.
The effort has grown as families have united to petition lawmakers to support the bill. Corey Lowe, a former police officer, was among three families who joined Peake at the Capitol on Tuesday. Lowe's 12-year-old daughter, Victoria, was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease and can have up to 100 seizures a day if not controlled.
"It's a start, and that's all we are asking for is a start, to provide some relief for our children and grandchildren," Lowe said. "As their parents, we are here to fight for our children."
A state law passed in 1980 established the academic research program allowing for the limited use of medical marijuana for those diagnosed with glaucoma and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, but the program ceased soon after when the federal government stopped delivery of legal cannabis, according to a legislative research memo.
The proposed bill would add seizures to the list of medical conditions allowed in the program, and Peake said the cannabis oil being distributed would be "limited in scope, tightly restricted, well regulated and managed by doctors." The drug would be administered orally in a liquid form, and Peake was adamant that it would not open the door to widespread, recreational use of marijuana in the state.
"I am concerned as anyone that we would get to a slippery slope of a broader scope of marijuana use in the state," Peake said. "I promise you I will fight that with every bit of energy in me. I promise you, this is not legalized marijuana for recreational use. We are not going down that path."
Peake said he has received the support of the Medical Association of Georgia, the largest group of physicians in the state, and does not expect to see opposition from law enforcement groups. Twenty states provide some form of access to medical marijuana, Peake said.
On the long list of bill co-sponsors were Rep. John Meadows, chairman of the Rules Committee, which sets the daily agenda in the House, and Rep. Wendell Willard, chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
"It's been proven medically that this has a benefit for those individuals who are suffering from seizures," Willard said. "If that can bring some relief, I think it would be appropriate to address that with an exception in the law."
Shannon and Blaine Cloud, whose 8-year-old daughter Alaina suffers from seizures, said they were surprised by how quickly the effort has gained momentum in the past three weeks.
"We're thankful that a lot of these representatives' hearts have been touched by our children," said Shannon Cloud. "And, truly, they want to help and they want to do the right thing and they want to make sure our kids get the medicine we know can give them a better quality of life."