Plan to grow, sell medical marijuana filed in the Georgia Legislature

In this June 17, 2015 file photo, marijuana plants grow at LifeLine Labs in Cottage Grove, Minn. Minnesota health officials will allow residents with chronic pain to buy medical marijuana starting in August, they announced Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015, in a long-awaited decision that could expand enrollment in the state’s struggling program by thousands of patients. (AP Photo/Jim Mone,File)

Georgia voters would decide whether medical marijuana could be grown and sold in-state, under legislation filed Thursday in the state House.

House Resolution 36 is a long shot, but offers a glimpse of what advocates say is the best solution for hurdles faced by hundreds of families already legally allowed to possess a limited form of medical marijuana in Georgia.

Under a 2015 law, patients and, in the case of children, families registered with the state are allowed to possess up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil to treat severe forms of eight specific illnesses, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

But it’s up to patients how to get the drug here, a proposition made more fraught because federal law bans interstate transport of any form of the drug. The state law does not allow in-state growing of the drug for medical purposes or allow some manufacturers to ship it here, including for legal use of the oil.

Advocates tried last year to convince lawmakers to ease that restriction, but to no avail. A big sticking point for both policymakers and law enforcement officials in Georgia is the federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the most dangerous class of drugs with a high potential for abuse and addiction, and no accepted medical uses. Many Georgia officials including Gov. Nathan Deal have said that federal classification needs to change before the state’s law can be expanded.

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, who authored the original law, sponsored HR 36. It would put the question to voters on the 2018 ballot of whether to allow growing and distributing the drug in Georgia for medicinal purposes only. It faces a high bar for passage: Because it is written in the form of a constitutional amendment, it needs two-thirds approval in each the House and Senate.

Peake also filed a related piece of legislation, House Bill 65, which would expand the list of eligible illnesses for medical marijuana to include AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, intractable pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and Tourette’s syndrome.

The filings come the same day the Senate introduced a much less aggressive medical marijuana expansion. Senate Bill 16 would back limited expansion of the law — adding only autism to the list of eligible illnesses — only if there's a rollback of the allowable THC level in the cannabis oil now allowed here.

THC is the component in the drug that makes people high. The law allows the possession of cannabis oil with up to 5 percent THC. SB 16 would reduce that maximum to 3 percent.

A poll done earlier this month by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed widespread support for allowing growers to harvest and distribute medical marijuana in-state, although there was not support to allow the drug's recreational use.

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