Georgia’s black caucus wants more diversity on medical marijuana panel

Pushing for more outreach to black and Latino families about the state’s new medical marijuana law, the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus began a series of hearings Tuesday meant to inform new policy recommendations when the Legislature starts back in January.

“The governor put together a commission but that commission was not inclusive of all of Georgia,” said state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, D-Lithonia, who has been critical of the new Commission on Medical Cannabis for what she said is its lack of diversity.

“We thought it was ironic there were no African Americans on the panel” yet 3 of every 10 Georgians are black, Dawkins-Haigler said. “That is a large number of people here in the state of Georgia. Everyone (should) have some input. Many people suffer from chronic diseases. We want to make sure we reach out to our community. It’s very important we’re included.”

Georgia for the first time this year formally approved the use of a limited form of cannabis oil to treat severe forms of eight illnesses including cancer, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. Almost 250 families have since qualified for the state’s new medical marijuana registry, allowing them to use the oil in treatment.

African American lawmakers successfully fought to include sickle cell disease on the treatment list, but still want consideration of other diseases that have a disproportionate effect on people of color including lupus and fibromyalgia.

The state medical cannabis commission formed earlier this year to study the effect of Georgia’s new medical marijuana law and whether it should be expanded to allow growers to harvest and distribute cannabis oil in-state. That work is ongoing, and the panel is expected to issue its recommendations by Dec. 31.

Dawkins-Haigler, who is the black caucus chairwoman, said her panel would meet next Nov. 10.

Here's a look at medical marijuana's support over time as of June 2015. Click through to see support by party and gender.