Georgia House Approves Watered-Down Medical Marijuana Bill

Feb 29, 2016

A much leaner version of a bill to expand access to medical marijuana overwhelmingly received the approval of the Georgia House on Monday, a key deadline for bills to stand a chance of becoming law. 

The House voted 152-8 on the measure, which expands the list of conditions that would qualify a person to legally possess an oil derived from cannabis plants from eight to 15. Among the new conditions are post-traumatic stress disorder, HIV/AIDS and autism.

Bill sponsor state Rep. Allen Peake’s original bill called for setting up a regulatory structure to grow marijuana in state, but the cultivation language was stripped out of the proposal by a House committee vetting the bill before making it to a full floor vote.

Speaking on the floor before the vote, Peake, a Macon Republican, said, “I’d be remiss in presenting this bill if I didn’t express some tinge of disappointment, and mostly in myself.”

“When any of us author a piece of legislation, it is our job to make a compelling enough argument to each other, to leadership and the governor as to why our bill is needed,” Peake said. “Clearly, I didn’t make a strong enough case for the need for a regulated infrastructure for cultivation of medical cannabis in our state.”

Peake’s bill originally had strong support from the House chamber when he introduced it. But after running up against opposition from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the prosecuting attorney’s council and the governor, committee lawmakers said it became obvious to them the bill, as written, had no chance of becoming law.

On the House floor, Peake spoke in baseball metaphors. He said the current version of his bill was “not a home run,” but “a good sacrifice bunt to advance the runner.” The Macon lawmaker said the issue of in-state growth isn’t going away.

“Even if it’s not me, someone will be leading this charge in the future,” Peake said. “Unless Congress acts to reschedule marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug, our citizens will not stop demanding that we find a solution that will provide access to a safe, legal, lab-tested medical cannabis oil in Georgia. That is our responsibility.”

In addition to adding seven new conditions to the list of qualifying conditions, the bill also adds state protections for manufacturers willing to ship the cannabis oil into Georgia.

Despite receiving overwhelming approval from House members, some lawmakers did express concerns the bill is leading the state toward recreational marijuana use.

State Rep. Randy Nix, R-LaGrange, said he was conflicted about whether to vote yes or no on the bill.

“My head and my gut say we’re headed down the wrong road,” Nix said. “If I vote yes, I’m going to expect the sponsor of this bill to fight as passionately against full legalization, which is where we’re going, as he has fought to get to this point.” 

The LaGrange lawmaker ultimately did vote in favor of the bill.

The bill now heads to the Senate. Peake says he hasn’t yet found a sponsor for the bill in the chamber.