New poll: Georgians want to expand state’s medical marijuana law

Georgians overwhelmingly support expanding the state’s new medical marijuana law, according to a new poll for a group advocating the idea.

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

The results come as Gov. Nathan Deal has said he's not convinced of the need to expand the state's new program, which for the first time this year allows use of a limited form of cannabis oil to treat severe forms of eight illnesses including cancer, Parkinson's disease and epilepsy.

ExploreMore than 300 families have since qualified for the state’s new medical marijuana registry, allowing them to use the oil in treatment.

Parents and advocates, however, want lawmakers to go one step further: allow growers to harvest and distribute cannabis oil in-state.

The poll conducted on behalf of the newly formed Georgians for Freedom in Healthcare is part of that effort to show Georgians are comfortable with expanding the program — even if the governor isn’t.

The poll, conducted Nov. 29-30 by Atlanta-based Opinion Savvy, found 84.5 percent of likely 2016 Georgia primary voters somewhat to strongly supported allowing production and distribution of cannabis oil in Georgia.

Another 72.7 percent of respondents said they are somewhat to very confident law enforcement agencies could effectively police the law's expansion — something law enforcement officials in Georgia have said they are still skeptical about.

Among other findings, 81.8 percent of respondents said they support expanding the list of illnesses now included in the program for the oil’s use. Another 61.5 percent said they somewhat to strongly support allowing the smoking of medical marijuana as a form of treatment. And 49.4 percent said they would at least somewhat support recreational use of marijuana in Georgia, although state lawmakers have said they have no appetite for allowing recreational use here.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. It used an automated system that called a mix of landlines and cellphones. The number of likely Republican primary voters, including independents, was 457. The number of likely Democratic primary voters, including independents, was 305.

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, who is leading the Commission on Medical Cannabis as part of a formal effort by the state to track the effect of its new law, said he was not surprised by the poll’s results. Expansion of the law for the production and distribution of cannabis oil has also been endorsed by State Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, who is chairman of the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.

The commission, which is charged with studying whether the law should be expanded to allow growers to harvest and distribute cannabis oil in-state, meets for the last time at 9 a.m. Wednesday. It must present recommendations to Deal by the end of the year.