Medical marijuana changes on tap today

Gov. Nathan Deal's staff has quietly worked on a plan to allow the limited use of medical marijuana since lawmakers scuttled a legislative push to do so last month. He is ready to unveil that proposal later today.

Deal will hold a press conference this afternoon to outline his plan that could allow some families to use a form of cannabis oil to treat debilitating seizures. He also will discuss a separate idea to create a pilot program to start privatizing the foster care system.

Both are part of a larger strategy of taking executive action where lawmakers failed. It's led to criticism from political rivals and questions from legal experts about whether the governor is overstepping his authority. But Deal's camp sees advantages to taking this route.

The governor has said he is considering a state project under a college - maybe the Georgia Regents University - to provide a scientific environment to start clinical trials. That could create a controlled environment to study the medical marijuana and lay the groundwork for legislation next year.

Deal told us at a stop in east Georgia last week that his office has had conversations with federal authorities about how to avoid transporting marijuana across state lines, a federal offense. The academic option could inoculate that threat, and Georgia Regents has long-standing agreements with state health agencies that could be used.

"This approach would be similar to having a clinical-type trial," Deal said in that interview, adding that the university is "perfectly suited" for the studies. "They could validate, document and keep the records so we know whether what we've tried is actually working or not."

Deal has also said he wanted to explore a pilot program to start privatizing some child welfare services, and tapped a commission last week that could oversee the program. That legislation gained momentum after the AJC uncovered lapses in the child safety net system in the months before the legislative session started.

Both pieces of legislation were victims of feuding between powerful lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House and Senate chambers in the final hours of the legislative session.

Senate leaders refused to pass the medical marijuana legislation unless House lawmakers approved a separate push to require insurance plans to provide autism coverage for children that was unpopular with several powerbrokers. And the privatization push failed when lawmakers couldn't decide on competing plans over who would oversee the pilot program.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.