OPINION: The time I bought marijuana for my son in a Petco parking lot

Cannabis plants grow in the greenhouse at a medical marijuana cultivation facility.

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Cannabis plants grow in the greenhouse at a medical marijuana cultivation facility.

‘Filling’ a prescription for medical marijuana oil during chemo took creativity

Back during my son’s two-year fight against an aggressive bone cancer, he was continually devastated by chemo treatments and the ensuing nausea. The doctors were always chasing that nausea, prescribing one drug after another for relief, a routine that was very hit and miss. Often miss.

It was a hellish existence for Michael and very dire for my wife and I who had to helplessly watch our child suffer so miserably.

Michael inquired about medical marijuana. Four years earlier, in 2015, the state legislature, in its wisdom, voted to allow those suffering from several diseases to obtain marijuana oil with a doctor’s prescription. Michael’s oncologist wrote a script but explained that Georgia remained in a bizarre limbo: A doctor can prescribe low-THC marijuana oil and you can possess it, but it is illegal to grow the plant that supplies the oil here. It is also illegal to bring it into the state from elsewhere.

Therefore, you must get it from the Pot Fairy. Or somewhere. It’s not clear. The legislature, again, in all its wisdom, didn’t elucidate.

With the prescription in hand, I made some calls and came into contact with what is, in essence, a medical marijuana underground railroad. I was forwarded to a pleasant lady who had some oil matching his prescription. I was told to meet her in the parking lot outside a suburban Petco. I asked what she looked like. She was in a Honda Odyssey, just like me. It was modern-day drug deal of two middle-aged people in minivans making a score outside a big box store.

Hardly what you’d see on “The Wire.”

Today, there are 20,000-plus Georgians on the state’s medical marijuana registry and still no clear way for those patients or their families to get what they need.

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Michael Torpy graduation

Michael Torpy graduation

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Michael Torpy graduation

In 2019, a full four years after the state allowed doctors to write prescriptions, legislators passed a bill establishing a process for companies to grow it here and supply that need. A woefully underfunded medical marijuana commission was created and was then overwhelmed by 69 companies applying to do business. It was an onslaught of 100,000 pages of bid documents that the seven politically appointed commissioners slogged through without technical expertise.

Last year, they picked six companies, including Botanical Sciences LLC, a firm that included former Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Price on its board of directors. He had voted against medical marijuana bills in Congress but had apparently come around on the issue. Also, there was Trulieve, which had lobbying help from Speaker David Ralston’s son, Matthew, and former Republican U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland.

Sixteen of the also-ran bidders filed protests. When they tried to review the winning bids, they learned that the documents released were redacted more than classified CIA assassination plots.

And with the protests, the plan to start delivering that marijuana oil has stalled.

This year, several legislators are — again — trying to get something moving. At a recent committee hearing, state Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, spoke of the cruel passage of time since lawmakers debated the issue in 2019. She noted, while choking up, that several patients pushing for medical marijuana — or their children — “have passed away in those three years.”

My son was one of them. Michael died in 2019. He was 20.

At another hearing, Dale Jackson, who has a son with autism, told representatives, “If you look behind me (in the audience) you won’t find any family members any more because we have given up. You’ve crushed our spirit. This building has crushed our spirit!

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Georgia Republican delegate Dale Jackson speaks at a press conference at the Capitol. Jackson via Facebook.

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Georgia Republican delegate Dale Jackson speaks at a press conference at the Capitol. Jackson via Facebook.

Credit: Greg Bluestein

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Georgia Republican delegate Dale Jackson speaks at a press conference at the Capitol. Jackson via Facebook.

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Credit: Greg Bluestein

“We were told to just do it right, just follow the process — it just takes freaking time,” he said, his voice growing angry. “You lied to us because we’ve done it for seven years and we still don’t have an ounce of medicine on the street.”

Because of that, the irate LaGrange resident said that’s where he gets it — on the street.

A bill introduced this session by Rep. Cooper would have issued the six winning bidders their licenses and then approved six more, an attempt to quiet the protesting bidders and move it along.

State Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell also introduced a bill that would allow 22 medical marijuana purveyors in the state, the six winning bids plus the 16 protestors. But some of the six winning bidders are unhappy with that plan, seeing that the market would be spread thin, as would be their profits.

Powell said many legislators are worried that medical marijuana is merely a foot in the door for recreational pot. That reluctance had forced this long stall, even though a 2018 poll showed that 77% of Georgians support medical marijuana. That number has almost surely grown since.

Ultimately, a bill passed through the House that would start the process all over, almost guaranteeing another three-year wait. The Senate also has its own bill. The two chambers will try to hash out something. One hopes.

Allen Peake, a former Republican state rep from Macon, is the legislator who started all this in 2015. He remains frustrated by the state’s inaction, saying, “It’s completely and utterly devastating for Georgia families to continue the delay to get access. Our leaders have failed us.”

“If there was a strong will on the part of the governor, the House and the Senate, it’d get done,” he said. “Clearly there has not been that will.”

Peake, who was one of the losing bidders (he did not file a protest), has for several years helped foot an underground delivery system to families. Somehow, medical marijuana oil enters the state and Peake has volunteers deliver it to those with prescriptions. He’s passed the oil onto his helpers at the state Capitol and then they go out and deliver it.

“Our guardian angels meet people at Target, at Chick-fil-A,” he said. “They’ve even taken oil to sheriff’s offices.”

Surely, there’s got to be a better way.

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