Capitol Recap: Medical marijuana snagged in Georgia bureaucracy

(Vernon Bryant/Dallas Morning News/TNS)
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(Vernon Bryant/Dallas Morning News/TNS)

Families were hopeful earlier this year when Gov. Brian Kemp signed House Bill 324, allowing the in-state cultivation and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes.

Now, though, six months have passed without the production of even a single legal cannabis plant while those parents wait for the appointment of the commission that will oversee medical marijuana in Georgia.

“It’s extremely frustrating for medically fragile patients to finally get a bill passed that allows the distribution of medical cannabis oil, and then still be waiting on Governor Kemp to establish the commission,” said Blaine Cloud, whose daughter Alaina suffers from a severe form of epilepsy that could be treated by the drug.

To be fair, Kemp is only responsible for naming some of the seven members of the Georgia Access to Medical Cannabis Commission. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and state House Speaker David Ralston are also charged with appointing members to fill slots on the panel.

But the three haven't tapped a single person to serve on the panel, a key part of the legislation that was supposed to end the paradox that Cloud and others faced: Georgia law allows more than 8,400 patients on a state registry to use the drug in the form of an oil with low levels of THC, the compound that gives users a high. These patients deal with a range of illnesses and conditions, including children who daily suffer multiple seizures, people living with Parkinson's disease and others facing terminal cancers. They, however, have no way to legally obtain it. The oil is usually acquired in another state, such as Colorado, where its production is legal, and then it is brought across state lines to Georgia, a violation of federal law.

The commission is essentially a startup, unlike other boards and agencies with established procedures and existing members. That’s one reason some have cited for the delay in naming its members. State officials say more than 50 candidates have applied for positions on the panel.

There are rules about who can serve. Commission members are not allowed to hold an ownership stake or financial interest in any cannabis oil firm during their term and five years after it ends.

Cloud points out that setting up the panel is only one step in the process of producing the medication while “registered patients and many others continue to suffer every day.”

“It will take time to get companies licensed once the commission is finally established,” Cloud said.

A 'fig leaf' for Sonny: You get a feeling it may not always be sunny at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Andrew Crane-Droesch, who used to be a research economist with the USDA's Economic Research Service, recently wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post about his former boss — well, maybe boss' boss' boss — Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

“Out of the blue, in August 2018, agriculture secretary George “Sonny” Perdue announced that my agency and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture would relocate from Washington, D.C., to some yet-to-be-determined location. He claimed that this would lower costs and bring us closer to ‘stakeholders.’ That stated justification was a fig leaf for the administration’s true intentions. We didn’t need to sit next to a corn field to analyze agricultural policy, and Perdue knew that. He wanted researchers to quit their jobs.”

The Georgia cities of Athens and Griffin were in the running to land the two agencies before Kansas City got the nod.

At the time the selection was made, Perdue said in a press release that moving the agencies “will help ensure USDA is the most effective, most efficient, and most customer-focused agency in the federal government, allowing us to be closer to our stakeholders and move our resources closer to our customers.”

Crane-Droesch, now a data scientist with the University of Pennsylvania Health System, also took issue with the larger Trump administration, saying it “had demonstrated its hostility to our agency.”

“Their proposed 2020 budget halved our staff from 329 to 160, slashing ‘low priority research’ areas like food assistance programs and conservation efforts,” he wrote. “The department had started requiring us to add disclaimers to our scientific journal publications, even those that passed peer review, undermining the authority of our own work.”

Crane-Droesch added that Perdue's intention was to put a lid on critical data that proved inconvenient. For example, while Perdue, a former governor of Georgia, had proposed restricting access to food stamps, a USDA research paper showed that such assistance programs "were often a positive multiplier for local economies."

Another USDA paper that Crane-Droesch cited ran afoul of the current administration when it showed the 2017 tax cut would give "the biggest benefits to the wealthiest farmers."

The department's internal watchdog is now investigating the USDA'S handling of reports on climate science under Perdue, according to

Congressional Democrats asked the department’s inspector general to probe “potential instances of suppression and alteration of scientific reports, documents, or communications” at the USDA after media reports detailed the department’s systematic attempts to downplay or undermine climate-related studies.

Offering a hand: U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall of Lawrenceville joined a group of GOP lawmakers asking Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to preserve the country's "longstanding commitment to assist refugees."

The House Republicans oppose further reductions in the nation’s refugee resettlement program, which the Trump administration plans to cap at a record-low 18,000.

“In our communities throughout the country, there is a long history of opening doors to assist refugees. Local leaders, faith groups, and businesses have come together to create an environment where refugees are welcomed and receive the services necessary to learn English, find employment, and become part of the fabric of their new communities,” more than a dozen lawmakers wrote.

A spokesman for Woodall, who is not running for re-election in 2020, said the congressman supports the refugee resettlement program “to protect individuals and families fleeing war or facing religious, ethnic or political persecution.”

“Mr. Woodall believes we can maintain our national security obligations while at the same time upholding our commitment to assist refugees facing the most harrowing conditions,” the spokesman said.

A conservative crack: Conservative pundit Erick Erickson seized on one piece of the testimony Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, gave this past week as part of the impeachment inquiry.

That was the revelation that while Taylor had pushed for President Donald Trump to speak by telephone with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, he did not find out that their July 25 conversation occurred until two months later.

"It suggests there was a rush to get the transcript locked away as quickly as possible and make it all go away," Erickson wrote in a post at The Resurgent. "That suggests there was something that needed to be hidden and of utmost secrecy that even the ambassador himself could not know about it.

“That suggests the White House was hiding something and raises the most important question: why?

Erickson has also suggested that, because of the impeachment inquiry, Georgia might be better off keeping a certain experienced hand at the wheel. On Twitter, Erickson wrote:

“I say this understanding his condition is frail and the trial would be burdensome, but I wonder if there is any thinking about Johnny Isakson staying in the Senate through an impeachment trial to spare the new guy having to deal with it.”

Isakson announced in August that he would step down at the end of the year for health reasons.

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— Teresa Tomlinson, the former mayor of Columbus who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue, collected an endorsement from former Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Tomlinson is competing with Sarah Riggs Amico, who was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor last year; Jon Ossoff, who came in a close second in the 2017 special election in the 6th Congressional District; and Ted Terry, the mayor of Clarkston.

Former U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, now running to regain her seat in the U.S. House representing the 6th District, has won the backing of E-PAC. U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York started the political action committee to elect more GOP women to Congress.

E-PAC also put two candidates in the 7th Congressional District, former Home Depot executive Lynne Homrich and state Sen. Renee Unterman, on its "women to watch" list.

Judy Farrington Aust, a founder of the Goodman McGuffey firm, launched her bid this past week for an open seat on the Georgia Court of Appeals.

Capitol Recap

Here's a look at some of the political and government stories that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's staff broke online during the past week. To see more of them, go to

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