Supporters of a bill to legalize the limited growth of marijuana for medical use in Georgia began their campaign to sway lawmakers at a House committee meeting Monday.
For three hours, the small group of lawmakers heard testimony from bill sponsor Allen Peake (R-Macon), medical professionals, advocacy groups and people like Jennifer Conforti, whose five-year-old daughter Abby has autism.
After nine months of “epic meltdowns” in which Abby would violently bite her own arm, Conforti told the panel she decided to start giving her medical cannabis – illegally.
“I’m basically totally out there. Yes, I’m giving my daughter medicinal cannabis illegally in Georgia, but it was a matter of … our lives were non-existent. We had no lives,” Conforti said. “If you’d asked me two years ago before she started her meltdowns if I’d give my daughter cannabis illegally … What? I don’t smoke that stuff. I didn’t know anything about it. But I can tell you this, for my daughter it works. For my home, we have a home back.”
Autism isn’t currently one of eight conditions in Georgia that qualifies a person for medical marijuana use. Even if it was, it’s still a federal offense to bring the drugs across state lines.
Under HB 722, Conforti’s daughter would be able to legally get the medical cannabis Conforti says her daughter needs to keep from hurting herself. The bill proposes licensing between two and six manufacturers to grow, produce and distribute all of the state’s medical cannabis. If passed, it would also expand the list of approved medical conditions to 17, including autism, and strip away THC limits.
“Whether we pass this bill or not, people are going to smoke weed to get high,” Peake said. “So why wouldn’t we set up a regulatory structure for those with debilitating diseases who want access to a safe product here in Georgia? Why wouldn’t we do that for our citizens?”
Monday’s hearing was the first of two preliminary hearings on the bill. Only supporters were invited to speak at the first meeting, while opponents are scheduled to testify in front of the same House committee Wednesday, Jan. 27.
These hearings are the bill’s first step as it makes its way through the legislature. Already, though, it’s proving to be a divisive issue.
Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Ackworth) told supporters he wants to help kids like Conforti’s, but this bill goes too far.
“I read this bill to have some big problems with it, with respect to opening doors for recreational marijuana use,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t members like me and perhaps other members of this panel that want to take care of people with legitimate medical issues.”
The arguments are emblematic of the divisions the bill is creating among Capitol leadership. House Speaker David Ralston has voiced his support for the effort, and more than 100 members of the lower chamber have signed on to the bill. But Gov. Nathan Deal has said he’s against the idea of growing marijuana in state, and law enforcement officials says until the federal government changes its stance on growing marijuana, it should not be legalized here.
A panel tasked to explore the issue voted against recommending the measure to the legislature.