State House committee passes medical marijuana expansion

A key state House committee passed legislation Wednesday that would expand the list of medical conditions that can be treated with cannabis oil.

House Bill 722 would add HIV/AIDS, epidermolysis bullosa, post-traumatic stress disorder, Tourette’s syndrome and other disorders and illnesses to the list of qualifying medical conditions for the state’s cannabis oil program.

Lawmakers passed legislation last year that legalized cannabis oil for the treatment of eight disorders.

“We’re going to improve the lives of a significant amount of Georgians by the passing of this bill,” said bill sponsor Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon. “Not as many as I would’ve liked.”

Peake was “disappointed” about the committee’s decision Monday to eliminate the provision that would have allowed limited cultivation and production of cannabis oil. The bill would have originally allowed for the creation of a maximum six private, state-licensed cultivators and producers of cannabis oil.

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Since cultivation is not legal in Georgia, patients and their families have to travel out of state to purchase cannabis oil. Supporters say this puts them at risk of federal drug possession charges.

One solution to the problem is to purchase cannabis oil from out-of-state manufacturers who ship to Georgia. Peake’s bill would protect the manufacturers from criminal liability.

The addition of PTSD to the list of qualifying medical conditions was met with some opposition.

Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, expressed concerns that the inclusion of PTSD as a condition that can be treated with cannabis oil would send the wrong message to veterans.

“There’s a tendency, rightly, to elevate veterans and people who are first responders,” said Setzler. “I think it’s below the dignity of our veterans to suggest they need it.”

Setzler, a U.S. Army veteran, said he doesn’t think “using marijuana in oil form…will solve their problem” in relation to PTSD. The representative said making cannabis oil available to veterans suffering PTSD “seems more like a reward” than medical treatment.

Lawmakers agreed that patients suffering from PTSD acquired as a result of situations other than service in the armed forces would qualify for the cannabis oil program.

Peake said the bill’s passing is “an opportunity to provide” qualifying patients “with some relief.”

“I believe it has a decent chance of being enacted just from the conversations that I’ve had,” said Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna, chairman of the House Judiciary Non-Civil committee.

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