Georgians back medical marijuana, AJC poll finds

Georgians overwhelmingly support the legalization of a form of marijuana to treat certain medical conditions, a new poll for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found.

The poll also showed a nearly even split among Georgians on the idea of fully legalizing marijuana use.

The results are the first among a number of hot-button issues lawmakers will face this year, with Georgians also weighing in on the economy, transportation and immigration.

The poll, conducted Monday through Thursday by New York-based Abt SRBI, found that 84 percent of Georgians, as well as 84 percent of registered voters, agreed that the Legislature should legalize a marijuana-based medication. Such a medication — cannabis oil — has been the focus of lawmakers since last year, although they have yet to pass a bill legalizing it.

The oil is used to treat certain seizure disorders in both children and adults — afflictions that can cause hundreds of seizures a day and often lead to death. It is harvested from the marijuana plant but does not create the high that recreational users of marijuana seek.

Meanwhile, a near majority in the poll also support going further and legalizing marijuana for recreational use. While 49 percent of all respondents and 46 percent of registered voters support legalizing marijuana, 48 percent of all respondents and 52 percent of registered voters disagree.

“The people are ahead of the politicians on this one, especially on the medical marijuana issue,” said state Sen. Curt Thompson, D-Tucker.

Thompson has proposed legislation to provide Colorado-style access to marijuana at licensed retail shops while also allowing its use through medical providers for treatment of conditions including cancer, glaucoma and HIV/AIDS.

“Elected officers should not be afraid of what this will do politically because Georgians are ready for it,” Thompson said.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points, meaning neither supporters nor opponents of full legalization have a clear majority. The poll used live operators who called a mix of landlines and cellphones.

Legalization of a form of marijuana as well as full decriminalization of pot will be on the agenda when lawmakers return to work Monday.

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, filed House Bill 1 ahead of the legislative session to allow the use of cannabis oil to treat certain disorders. That bill, however, would only legalize the use of a marijuana derivative that does not produce the high generally associated with the plant.

Separately, Thompson has filed Senate Bill 7 to allow expanded access to medical marijuana beyond just the oil, including leafy parts of the plant.

Thompson has also proposed a constitutional amendment to allow recreational use of marijuana. Senate Resolution 6 would put the question to voters and mandate that tax revenue from the sale of marijuana would be constitutionally earmarked for education and transportation infrastructure.

Peake’s bill has the full support of Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, meaning it will likely pass the House this year, as it did in 2014.

“It’s a priority of ours and we’re going to move on it,” Ralston said.

Thompson’s proposed constitutional amendment, however, will not receive as warm a reception, Ralston said.

“That will not pass in the House,” he said. “I don’t support that.”

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