State Rep. Allen Peake took the stage minutes after the credits rolled on “Growing Hope,” a documentary detailing efforts to legalize a cannabis oil to treat seizure-ridden children in Georgia. After answering a few questions, the legislator from Macon pointed to a woman in her early 30s.
Blair Brown stood unsteadily, her voice cracking. She developed epilepsy at 17 years old and in 2011 had a stroke. With each seizure, she loses a bit of her memory. She doesn’t remember how her relationship with her husband, Parker, began. The birth of their 6-year-old son has faded as well.
“How are you going to help people like me?” said Brown, who has three grand mal seizures a week even with prescribed medication. “It’s easy to get this through for children, but it’s very hard to explain it for adults.”
A legislative committee has traveled the state to outline a sustainable plan for crafting a medical marijuana bill to present during the 2015 legislative session. But medical marijuana advocates and patients stricken with severe diseases such as cancer and glaucoma fear the bill will be drawn narrowly to only treat children with seizures.
“You don’t disparage someone trying to cure colon cancer, even if you think other cancers should be looked at, too,” said James Bell, director of Georgia CARE, a marijuana advocacy group. “I appreciate Allen and what he’s doing. I just wish that in the broader picture we could have a better discussion about the other medical issues.”
The documentary played to more than 50 people at a theater in downtown Dallas and focused exclusively on the families whose children have as many as hundreds of seizures per day. While research on cannabis oil’s health benefits is scant, parents report anecdotally that the medicine reduces seizures drastically.
While an oil variant with less than 1 percent THC may work wonders for kids, sick adults say it might not help them with their ailments. Brown says the oil could reduce her seizures, but it would likely need a higher THC content than is being considered in the early stage of Peake’s bill.
“If I go to the hospital for a seizure headache, I can take three vials of morphine and still drive home,” Brown said. “I don’t know how a cannabis-based oil could harm me.”
In September, Katie Crosby told legislators in Macon that a more expansive program would ease the chronic pain that keeps her homebound and jobless. Two-time cancer survivor David Garrison said the marijuana he smoked after chemotherapy was more effective and less addictive than the opioid pain relievers he received from doctors.
Brown can’t take a bath alone or go swimming because she might have a seizure. Driving her son to school is a daily concern.
“I can’t imagine trying to have a family,” Brown said. “Trying to live a life.”
Peake says his focus will be on a politically viable cannabis oil bill, one that will first make sure that the children with seizure disorders can legally access the treatment they need. That means a law decriminalizing the oil, allowing approved Georgia doctors to recommend it, and providing a limited number of regulated growers and dispensaries.
State Sen. Curt Thompson, a Democrat from Tucker, says he will propose a separate bill with expanded access and multiple forms of medical marijuana available, based on the models in similarly conservative states such as Arizona and Indiana.
“For some, you do have to have the vaporizer, or edibles, or smokeable marijuana,” said Thompson, who also sits on the study committee. “Once you are willing to deal with the fact that there is medicinal value to cannabis when dealing with certain illnesses … the biggest problem is that not everybody responds to cannabis-based oil.”
In January, Public Policy Polling found that more than half of Georgia voters supported legalization of all marijuana use and 62 percent supported decriminalization of the drug. Channel 2 Action News reported that 66 percent of Republican voters supported cannabis-based oil being legalized last spring.
Whether Georgia lawmakers could stomach an expansive medical marijuana law is questionable. Gov. Nathan Deal has said he wouldn’t sign a law allowing for medicinal use of smokeable forms, also called “whole plant” marijuana. Others have expressed a fear that Georgia would be headed toward full marijuana legalization like that in Colorado and Washington.
For those on-the-fence legislators, 37-year-old Syncere Newman might confirm their fears. The Douglasville entrepreneur, like many others, is intrigued by the prospect of growing and dispensing medical marijuana in the state.
“People should have the option that works for them,” Newman said. “Whether it’s the ointment or the oil or the vapor. It’s just about education. Getting rid of the taboo.”
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