Augusta - The state initiative to treat children with epilepsy and other disorders using medical marijuana took a major step forward on Tuesday. But at the same time, Gov. Nathan Deal poured cold water on the prospect of legislation next year to legalize the drug for medical uses.
The governor said Dr. Geoffrey Guy, the head of London-based GW Pharmaceuticals, has agreed to launch expanded clinical trials that would allow a broader range of children suffering from debilitating seizures to participate in studies on the use of cannabis oil.
There is no timetable for the start of the trials, but Deal said he's hopeful they will get regulatory approval by early 2015.
"Time truly is of the essence," Deal said after a meeting with the drugmaker's executives at Georgia Regents University. "We want to get it right and we want to make sure our protocols are properly approved ... but we need to show progress."
The governor also said a separate effort by the Georgia Regents to launch a clinical trial using cannabis oil obtained from federal regulators in Mississippi was making headway, though there is no firm timetable on its start either.
Deal's two-pronged strategy came after Republican infighting scuttled legislation that would have made anyone in possession of a particular cannabis oil immune from prosecution and cleared the way for patients and their parents to travel out of state to find a supply. The cannabis oil in question is extracted from marijuana plants without THC, the chemical that produces a high.
The governor signaled he was reluctant to embrace legislation that could interfere with the studies, should he win re-election. Said Deal:
"I would hope we give this process ample time to be fully vetted and fully implemented. I don't want us to see by legislative action for us to put something in place that would be detrimental to the process that we've already started."
He said he's willing to talk to state Rep. Allen Peake, the Macon Republican who sponsored the measure, but he doesn't want state legislation to interfere with the drugmaker's trials or the state's studies.
"This is a delicate subject, and one that has a lot of regulatory oversight," he said.
Peake said he appreciated Deal's effort. But he made clear he would still press legislation next year in hopes of finding a compromise.
"There are children, and other citizens, who are suffering daily now, who need access to medical cannabis immediately. Some may not live long enough to wait for the trials to start. That is why I believe there is still a need to find a legislative solution quickly during the next session that will not hinder or interfere with the process the Governor has initiated, that will establish a framework for regulated access to cannabis oil for a broad range of citizens for specific and limited diagnosis's, and can be put into place expeditiously, so that our citizens are not suffering, and dying, while they wait on a federal government approval process."
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