Prosecutors object to 'laundry list' of medicinal pot's eligible users

That Allen Peake has collected the signatures of 100 of his fellow House members for his medical marijuana bill. He has bowed to Gov. Nathan Deal's objections and has greatly narrowed the scope of his measure.

So you would expect smooth sailing for House Bill 1.

Last night, we received a long note from Chuck Spahos, the PACG’s executive director. Prosecutors, he wrote, have no problem with treating seizure-prone kids with a dose of non-intoxicating pot derivative:

The limited decriminalization of a low THC cannabidiol for the treatment of certain seizure disorders afflicting children is not something we, the prosecutors of this state, would oppose. We agree that a provision ensuring that these children and their legal caregivers would not be prosecuted for being in possession of that particular substance is palatable. Also, a provision that calls for clinical studies of the effects of cannabidiol as well as protection from prosecution for those conducting the studies is also appropriate.

If you feel a “but” coming on, you’ve got good instincts. The current version of the Peake bill would permit medicinal marijuana for the treatment of the following diseases/conditions, in both kids and adults: Cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, ALS, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, mitochondrial disease, Alzheimer's disease, muscle spasticity disorder, fibromyalgia, Parkinson's disease, PTSD, autism, sickle cell anemia, Tourette syndrome, and other illnesses of a terminal nature.

We'll let Spahos continue:

However, there is a laundry list of disorders listed within the proposed version of HB 1 as well as the concept that any person affected by one of those disorders, or that is able to acquire a physician's signature indicating such, could possess liquid marijuana. That is not something the prosecutors and law enforcement of this state are willing to embrace. This is not something that we have indicated to the sponsor, the Governor or the Lt. Governor that we can support.

Remember that any law that passes that decriminalizes possession of any form of marijuana puts Georgia in direct conflict with federal law. This is a fact that most are willing to ignore to see to it that these children with these specific seizure disorders, which we have heard there exists no other remedy to ease their pain or decrease the frequency of their seizures, can have access to this substance.

This is not the case for all others that can simply get a certificate from a physician and then legally possess liquid marijuana.

In other words, prosecutors fear that we could have a repeat of the “pain pill clinics” they’ve worked to get rid of. More:

We have seen the impact this accessibility is having on the children and motorists of the few states that have gone down that road. If the Georgia General Assembly is ready to legalize marijuana despite its continued illegality under federal law, then it needs to do just that. Do not legalize liquid marijuana under the false pretense that it is only for medical conditions.

Just a few minutes ago, we talked to Peake, who said he’s puzzled by the prosecutorial objections. If a non-intoxicating pot derivative is legalized for one group of sufferers, “why not offer that medicine to other citizens who could potentially benefit?” he asked. “I have no problem fighting that fight all day.”

The Macon Republican said that his bill addresses the policing problem by requiring those who use medicinal pot to apply for a registration card with the state Department of Public Health – so officers wouldn’t have to guess whether a possessor has the proper disease.

“If they’re object is that it is tough to figure out who’s got a diagnosis, we’ve got a protocol to deal with that,” Peake said.

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Last year's measure that gives the legislative branch the final say on whether to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act was at first seen as a blow to Gov. Nathan Deal's powers. Now it's becoming his go-to answer whenever he's asked about expanding the program.

Time and again, Deal reminds reporters and questioners that lawmakers get the final word. He repeated that yesterday when asked about a Republican Senate plan to replace parts of Obamacare if the Supreme Court strikes down the use of subsidies for healthcare exchanges.

"We'll certainly look at it, but it's really up to the General Assembly," said Deal, adding: "There have been a number of states trying to get waivers that would be more compatible for their state. We've looked at that but we haven't found one that would fit our situation yet. And a good bit of our options hinge on the Supreme Court decision."

Asked for the umpteenth time whether he supports expanding Medicaid, a program he has long said is too costly in the long-term to embrace, Deal offered this:

"Under the original formulation, I'm still opposed to it."

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How much for a Lobbyist Fast Pass? The group perhaps most frustrated by the newly restricted entrances to the statehouse is also one of the most influential.

A range of lobbyists are upset about the latest door closure, and they're taking it out on lawmakers. One proposal we heard floating around the statehouse is a security pre-clearance system modeled after the Transportation Security Administration's popular program for frequent travelers.

Lobbyists and other frequent visitors would pay a set fee, say $100, to breeze through security. And the funds collected would go to pay for statehouse improvements.

Another idea circulating among some frustrated troopers: A legislative change that would no longer require every door to be screened.

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Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is headed to the Holy Land. Hizzoner is joining a cybersecurity mission to Israel in March according to the America-Israel Business Connector.

From Global Atlanta:

As if cyber security needed any more attention after major hacks at retail giants like Home Depot and Target last year, the issue was in the spotlight again last month when Sony Pictures was targeted by a group the FBI says had ties to North Korea. Threats by the hackers derailed the planned theatrical release of “The Interview”, a comedy depicting the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. President Barack Obama publicly scolded the company for allowing such threats to censor free expression.

Leading tech companies including Google and IBM say they’re going to continue investing in defensive technologies, which is growing more important as commerce goes online and hackers grow in sophistication. Gartner Inc., a research firm, estimates that 60 percent of companies will see face service failures by 2020 due to threats presented by new technologies. 

Gov. Nathan Deal led his own trade mission last June, where he huddled with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to build the groundwork of a partnership between Georgia universities and cybersecurity firms in Israel.

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Offshore drilling could be in Georgia's future, under a new Obama administration proposal. Premium and dead tree subscribers can read all about it here:

The Department of the Interior included one offshore lease between Virginia and Georgia in a draft five-year plan for 2017-2022, subject to public comment and revision. The size and location of the lease would depend on a variety of geologic, economic and political factors.

The move is also likely to face lawsuits, as it was assailed by environmental groups. Republicans and oil industry types were pleased to see a new drilling opportunity, but they grumbled at its limited scope — and a simultaneous move to close off parts of Alaska.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a conference call with reporters that she did not expect to hand out an Atlantic lease until 2021 at the earliest. Any drilling would occur at least 50 miles offshore.

Left on the cutting room floor were the thoughts of U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who lives down on the coast:

“Energy exploration along the Atlantic coast can help strengthen our economic and national security, but the Obama Administration’s draft proposal fails to consult Georgians on our state’s energy needs and prevents other states from unlocking their full energy potential.

“While it’s beneficial for Georgians to have access to offshore energy production, it’s unfortunate that the Obama Administration treats energy policy as a bait-and-switch scheme. Taking energy-rich parts of Alaska off the table is irresponsible and unnecessary. We need to advance all-of-the above energy solutions that benefit all Americans.

“It’s unconscionable that the United States government still does not have a coherent energy strategy. I call upon the Obama Administration to work with states and Congress on developing sound energy policy. In turn, I will work with my Senate colleagues to harness our country’s abundance of energy in order to create American jobs, promote our national security, and lower energy costs for Georgia families.”

As for the failing-to-consult-Georgians critique, a lengthy public comment period will allow any Georgian to weigh in. But the plan clearly does not go as far as many would like: The House has repeatedly passed bills in recent years to open up the Atlantic for drilling -- and allow more than one lease.

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The White House scrapped a plan to eliminate the tax break in college savings accounts -- including one named for the late Georgia U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell -- after causing an uproar on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. The New York Times' Jonathan Weisman reports:

The decision came just hours after Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio demanded that the proposal be withdrawn from the president’s budget, due out Monday, “for the sake of middle-class families.” But the call for the White House to relent also came from top Democrats, including Representatives Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader, and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking member of the Budget Committee.

Ms. Pelosi pressed the case to senior administration officials on Air Force One as she flew with the president from India to Saudi Arabia, according to Democratic aides familiar with the discussions.

The move was an abrupt turn for the president, who had made the proposal during his State of the Union address only a week ago, a proposal he called part of his pitch for “middle-class economics.”

“Given it has become such a distraction, we’re not going to ask Congress to pass the 529 provision so that they can instead focus on delivering a larger package of education tax relief that has bipartisan support, as well as the president’s broader package of tax relief for child care and working families,” a White House official said.

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U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, is not pleased with Heritage Action for America, the think-tank offshoot that pressures lawmakers on conservative policies. Politico has the story on a tense meeting with Heritage staff and Republican lawmakers:

Georgia Rep. Austin Scott questioned how the conservative Heritage Action scores legislation.

“I think Paul Ryan’s ideas go a long way toward moving the country in the right direction, and are certainty conservative and consistent with most conservative fundamental beliefs,” Scott said in an interview, describing his comments in the closed meeting. “If you score Paul Ryan at a 66, none of us can live up to your standards. If you set an unachievable standard, it hurts our goals.”

Heritage Action actually scores Ryan as voting with the group 58 percent of the time.

Scott, in an interview with POLITICO, also said: “Coming from the farm, my granddad would say there are some people who want to prove a point and others who want to make a difference. I feel like Heritage sometimes is trying to prove a point while conservatives in the House are trying to make a difference.”

Scott is not the only Georgia lawmaker to publicly take a whack at Heritage Action. The group's 2013 Farm Bill push ticked off Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Coweta County.

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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.
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