A skeptical Nathan Deal questions medical marijuana expansion

The drive to allow the cultivation of medical marijuana in Georgia already has enough juice to pass the House. But it will take more than that to convince Gov. Nathan Deal to get behind the legislation.

The governor again said he was concerned that law enforcement officials raised questions about state Rep. Allen Peake's proposal. But he also contended that another constituency - the medical community - hasn't embraced it enough to his liking.

"Doctors worry they will lose their license. Look at the very small number of doctors who have signed up on our registry to say that we would even approve the use of what we have already authorized," Deal said after the State of the State speech. "If the medical community has not embraced it more thoroughly, I don't know how the expansion of maladies that are covered would help."

Lawmakers approved landmark legislation last year allowing Georgians to use a limited form of cannabis oil to treat severe forms of eight illnesses including cancer, Parkinson's disease and epilepsy. More than 220 doctors and at least 465 families are now enrolled in the program, which went live in June when a new state registry began signing up patients.

But patients must still travel to other states to get the drug, making them vulnerable to criminal charges of drug possession in other states that haven't made it legal to have and use it.

Peake has amassed more than 100 sponsors - more than enough needed to pass the chamber - for House Bill 722, which would create up to six facilities in Georgia where marijuana would be grown, harvested and processed into cannabis oil. The oil could be used by those who suffer from more than a dozen diseases, expanding the list from what's currently allowed.

Peake and his allies aren't backing down.

"We're going to take up the bill that was introduced on Tuesday," said House Speaker David Ralston. "We're going to move forward on that bill in the House and I feel like we will be able to engage with the governor's office and the Senate."