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Is Georgia’s Latest Medical Cannabis Bill Progress, Or Just A Bigger Empty Box?

On March 30th,  the last day of the Georgia Legislative session,  the Senate voted 45 to 6 to pass SB 16 to further amend and expand Haliegh’s Hope Act (HB 1) signed by Gov. Deal April 16 2015. If signed by the Governor, this bill would add Tourette’s syndrome, Autism, Epidermolysis bullosa, Alzheimer’s disease, AIDs, Peripheral neuropathy and patients in Hospice care to the list of qualifiers currently covered under Georgia law while leaving the 5% limit on THC intact. SB 16 also includes a limited reciprocity for possession for out of state patients.

The bill’s passage caused jubilant reactions from the parents of Autistic children present at the session, several of whom were present and testified at committee hearings during this session.

An activist was permitted on the floor of the House.

While there are many people that consider this latest tweak to Georgia’s medical cannabis law a major victory, two of the most important conditions that were left out of the bill were Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain. In every committee hearing on this matter over the past three years, Veterans and Veterans organizations have testified to the effectiveness of cannabis in the treatment of PTSD. That condition was struck out of the bill, despite the fact that even the Veterans Administration has formally recognized the potential benefit by commissioning this study.

A parade of Medical doctors and Research Scientist have also testified before the committees regarding the benefits of cannabis as a medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments, including chronic pain. In fact the statistics on reductions in opioid use in states with legal whole plant cannabis medications were presented, yet chronic pain was not in the bill that passed.

Private label pure THC concentrate next to CBD oil.

Even with all the testimony from credentialed witnesses and those with first hand experience with the medical benefits, there was plenty of opposing testimony from “experts” including the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council, The GBI, the Georgia Sheriffs Association, the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, religious organizations and Refer Madness lobbyists.

 

 

Private Label CDB oil with low THC content

Every scientist and doctor that testified urged a much broader depth and scope for the medical cannabis laws so that the doctors would have the ability to treat their patients without restriction and so that the scientists could perform meaningful research. In the end, their testimony fell on mostly deaf ears while the concerns from the Judicial lobbyists over losing their revenue streams and the pleas from Law Enforcement over taking away their “low hanging fruit” arrest and civil asset forfeiture tools were heard loud and clear. During one hearing, Vernon Kennan, GBI Director (and registered lobbyist), opposed any attempt to legalize or decriminalize possession of any form of marijuana on the basis of it being against Federal Law. This basis for opposition falls somewhere between hypocrisy and irony as the Georgia Legislature defied Federal Law with Medicaid expansion and creating a State Obama Care exchange. So, they can’t deny that they regularly exercise nullification, even if it is only when it suits them or when directed by the some higher power.

You can watch the testimony for yourself on the Peachtree NORML YouTube Channel.

What is not known with any high degree of veracity is how much influence peddling occurred behind the scenes to keep Georgia’s medical cannabis law so severely limited in scope.  There were many rumors and innuendo as to why the Legislature is acting as obstructionists in the face of the will of the people (click here for a survey) one of which speculated about a deal reached with GW Pharmaceuticals granting exclusive distribution and research rights within the state. Other speculation was that concerns over campaign funding from those that would suffer losses should cannabis become legal has influenced the path and trajectory of the medical cannabis bills.

What is known for certain is that in the states that have truly legalized use and possession of cannabis, opioid pain medication use has dropped tremendously as have opioid overdose deaths. Click here to read a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, or the NPR aritcle, or the USNEWS article. What is also known by parents using medical cannabis for their special needs children have reported miraculous results. Cancer patients have reported total remission from undertaking medical cannabis treatments. Veterans with PTSD have reported total alleviation of symptoms while using medical cannabis. There are myriad studies that report nothing but positive results with zero negative effects, and ZERO deaths (see studies here in alphabetical order by condition). The evidence for the effectiveness and the wide range of conditions that can be successfully treated continues to stack up, but the excuses to keep medical cannabis out of reach of potential patients are wearing very thin.

Now that this latest “improvement” to Georgia’s medical marijuana law has passed, and if the Governor signs it into law, what does it actually accomplish?  Mostly, it violates Article I, Section I, Paragraph X  of the Georgia Constitution by a “grant of special privileges or immunities” for a very small number of Georgians with the medical conditions that qualify them to possess a controlled substance that would be a felony for everyone else.  Georgia is still not a Medical Marijuana state. Georgia’s medical marijuana law does not legalize the production or sale of cannabis medications, it simply decriminalizes its possession by certain qualified individuals.

Rep. Allen Peake smiling while in the commission of felony possession of a controlled substance.

The 2017 Annual Report, from the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, entitled “A Patient-Focused Analysis of the Patchwork of State Laws” evaluates the medical cannabis laws among the various states and ranks them using a matrix of criteria. Not surprisingly, Georgia scored an F with their medical cannabis legislation. Quoting from their report , “While the low-THC bill approved this year in Georgia does not allow for in-state production and distribution, the state deserves credit for both creating legal protections through a patient registry and creating a commission that is seriously looking at a comprehensive medical cannabis program for the state’s patients. The challenge facing Georgia is to take the knowledge gained this year and create a truly comprehensive, sustainable program. This program must provide for in-state production and distribution, lift the arbitrary requirements for CBD and THC, and expand the list of qualifying conditions.”

Click to read the entire report.

Haleigh’s Hope Act, along with this latest update is nothing more than an empty box. Georgia’s medical marijuana law only provides protection from prosecution for a patient that has one of the qualifying conditions, if they have obtained a recommendation from a Doctor (if they can find one willing to do so) and if they register with the Georgia Department of Health to obtain a medical card allowing them to possesses a small amount of low THC CBD oil. But, there is no provision in Georgia law that states how a patient might actually obtain such oil as importation into Georgia is still not legal, which begs the question of how the low THC CBD oil is showing up in the state.

Skip ahead to 1:45 (one minute fourty-five seconds).

Marijuana Legalization in Georgia

by Ryan Graham

Cannabis Plant

The movement to legalize marijuana has been gaining steam nationwide. Eight out of nine states with ballot initiatives related to marijuana legalization passed in the 2016 election cycle. These initiatives ran the spectrum from limited medical use to full recreational use. President Obama has seemingly flip-flopped on the issue by publicly stating it should be treated as alcohol or cigarettes are treated, while enforcing policies of raiding producers in states that have legalized marijuana production. Locally, a few Georgia lawmakers have been working towards marijuana legalization. Unfortunately, little headway has been permitted, as opposition in the Senate and by the Governor has proven too much to overcome. Marijuana legalization is not only the moral thing as regards individual liberty and self-ownership, but specifically in treating disorders such as PTSD, Alzheimers, Autism spectrum disorders, seizure conditions, Crohn’s Disease, and many other illnesses. We MUST do the right thing and increase Liberty in Georgia by allowing citizens to treat medical conditions with marijuana as needed, and stop the morally abhorrent war on drugs that has been waged for decades.

Future of Marijuana Legalization in Georgia

Update: Allen Peake has introduced HR 36 which, if passed, would put the issue of of growing and distributing marijuana for medicinal purposes in Georgia. He simultaneously entered HB 65. A bill in the House to expand the list of illnesses eligible for medical marijuana use to include AIDs, Alzheimer’s, Autism spectrum disorders, intractable pain, PTSD, and Tourette’s syndrome. The Senate also introduced SB 16. which would add Austism spectrum disorders to the list of eligible illnesses and roll back the allowable THC content in cannabis oil from 5% to 3%.

State Representative Allen Peake (R), a leading proponent of marijuana legalization in Georgia, will try to put the issue to Georgia voters in the form of a referendum. The referendum is expected to expand the list of qualifying ailments for medical marijuana use as well as creating a legal way of obtaining said legal marijuana, as it is still illegal for citizens to obtain any marijuana product in Georgia, even if that citizen may legally possess it for medical purposes.

History of Marijuana Legalization in Georgia

HB 1 – Haleigh’s Hope Act

HB 1 was passed in the 2015 legislative session and legalized possession of up to 20 ounces of marijuana oil containing less than 5% THC for patients suffering from sickle cell, cancer, Crohn’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, mitochondrial disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, or seizure disorders. Cultivation of marijuana was NOT made legal via HB 1. The fact that cultivation is illegal means that there is still no legal means to gain access to medicine that is technically legal to possess. That is absurd. And that is why Allen Peake has engaged in civil disobedience to help get families in his constituency access to  marijuana oils to treat medical disorders. Peake broke federal and state laws to provide families in his district the help he promised and, for that, he should be commended.

SR 6 – The Georgia Marijuana Legalization Amendment

State Senator Curt Thompson(D) sponsored SR 6, a resolution in the 2015 legislative session meant to amend the state constitution to legalize recreational marijuana for adults age 21 and up. The resolution was filed, read, and referred, but was never brought to the floor for a vote

SB 198 – Georgia Retail Marijuana Code

Senator Curt Thompson also sponsored SB 198, the Senate bill associated with SR 6 that outlined the actual implementation of legalized recreational marijuana use. It limited the possession of marijuana to two ounces. In order to sell marijuana, retail stores would be required to pay an excise tax, the proceeds of which would be split between education and transportation spending. There would be no taxes on marijuana sold for medical purposes.

HB 722

HB 722 would have expanded the qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use to Glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Tourette’s Syndrome, severe and persistent muscle spasms, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Epidermolysis Bullosa, PTSD, intractable pain, Autism spectrum disorders, Alzheimer’s, and any terminal illness with less than a year of life expectancy, any condition approved by a commissioner appointed by the state. The failed bill provided rules for dispensaries to provide medical marijuana to patients, and lifted the 5% THC limit put in place by Haleigh’s Hope Act. Unfortunately, this bill was passed by the Georgia House of Representatives and the Senate never brought the bill to the floor for a vote.

SB 7

SB 7, also filed by State Senator Curt Thompson, would have allowed patients and caregivers over age 21 to use medical marijuana to possess up to two ounces. Qualified users would also have been able to cultivate marijuana plants. In contrast to HB 1, SB 7 would have allowed medical marijuana to be distributed by physicians in forms other than oil.  The bill was read and referred but was not raised for a vote.

(originally posted here – http://www.libertyingeorgia.com)

Hemp for Victory II: Hemp for the Future

By Kimberly Smith

In a world where farmers leave land empty during rotations, pesticides are harming valuable insect populations, and toxins and waste are ruining the environment, there is hemp. A crop that takes very little effort, land, fertilizer, and pesticides, while removing radioactive material from the soil and carbon emissions from the air. A crop that was once widely grown in the United States.  A crop that is produced into “green” products. A crop that can heal the Earth!

Many people still shy away from hemp due to its association with its “cousin” marijuana, which is a different variety of the same species, Cannabis sativa, L.  This is like comparing pugs and German shepherds (same species, different varieties). “Industrial hemp,” refers to cannabis grown for the use of its fiber, oil, and seeds (hemp, n.d.). Hemp and marijuana have obvious visual differences, primarily in height and shape (hemp tends to be tall, with few leaves, whereas marijuana tends to be shorter, with more leaves and flowers). These distinctions result in different production and uses of these two distinct varieties of the plant (Johnson, 2015; University of Minnesota, 2009). Additionally, hemp differs in genetic and chemical makeup. It contains less than 0.3% of the psychoactive compound THC (compared to 10% to 30% for marijuana), which gives it no psychoactive effect or “high.”

Hemp was once legally and widely grown in the United States. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both written on hemp paper, and the colony of Jamestown required citizens to grow hemp (Kolosov, 2009). In 1937, the Controlled Substances Act took away farmers’ ability to grow and produce hemp in the United States.  However, during World War II, the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urged farmers to grow hemp in support of the war effort by releasing the film “Hemp for Victory” in 1942. Furthermore, farmers who grew hemp were excused from military duty.  Until recently, the U.S. has had to depend on other countries to grow and produce hemp for Americans.  On October 22, 2014 Murray State University in Kentucky made history when they harvested and baled the first industrial hemp crop legally planted in the United States since around World War II (Wright, 2014).  A few states have grown hemp under study programs, and many have legalized growing and production of industrial hemp, and many more have legislation pending.  Click HERE to read the rest of this article…

 

The Skewed Incentives of Higher Education Spending: Part I

by Dr. Laura Williams*

October has arrived, and with it, the anxiety of midterm exams. Midterms are designed to help students check in, sometimes to realize they’re in over their heads. Midterms offer a chance to change course -figuratively or literally – or to withdraw. For the hundreds of thousands of American college students attending college on federally subsidized loans, midterms are a moment of truth. It’s midterm exam time for American higher education funding, and we’ll be failing our students yet again.

Libertarians and the liberty-minded can easily dismiss Bernie Sanders’ promise of “free college” as mere theft: the value given to one citizen must first be seized from another citizen. But too often we passively accept conceptions like “financial aid” as valuable, even necessary, crediting federal aid programs with good intentions they consistently fail to realize.

This three part series will examine the midterm crisis of American higher education spending. By examining the skewed incentives set for each actor in the education funding racket, I hope to demonstrate the damage done by progressive programs to those populations they claim to serve.

Basic economics tells us that because people respond to incentives, skewing incentives can cause people and organizations to act in seemingly irrational or anti-social ways. Nowhere is this principle more clearly demonstrated than in the twisted results of federal student aid funding. The stated desire of providing lower-cost, quality education to more students is entirely undermined by the perverse incentives put into place by the administration of good intentions through force.

As usual, government interference shifts the incentives of even the best of intentions. Colleges may raise prices (tuition) with impunity, confident that nearly all students qualify for some kind of aid or loan, and are thus insulated from the price of the product. Unfortunately students are also ill-equipped to determine the value of the product, as the intrinsic value of a college education is both near-impossible to quantify. What measurable outcomes we do have (completion rates and post-graduation salaries) are not encouraging.

Federal funding for college does not subsidize the cost of education. Nor is it an investment in the post-college success. What federal student aid subsidizes is the indentured servitude of our most vulnerable workers. Each member of the class of 2015 graduated into near-record unemployment for college graduates, and with an average of $40,000 in debt, most of it government-sponsored. Newly minted college graduates (who have been promised since kindergarten that college was a necessary and sufficient condition for a middle-class life) now face stagnated wages, saturated labor markets, and staggering student loan payments. For the right to earn a living in America, they will pay government a third of their wages, plus an additional ten percent in loan repayment on the debt they were told was essential to their success.

Troublingly often, we hear these spiraling cycles of soaring debts blamed on market forces, as though colleges were operating as robber barons, driving up prices on a helpless, captive population. Because government has so long framed college as a necessity for everyone, the capstone of a quality education and the price of entry for the American dream, its value is assumed, rather than measured. Prospective students and their parents have precious little information about the value added by any particular institution. Sure, kids who go to Harvard and Yale often do brilliantly, but attending Harvard or Yale is an indicator that they were on track to do well with or without that particular institution’s product. Because the traditional college education spans some of the most emotionally and psychosocially transformative years of any life (18-22) the change is difficult to attribute to an isolated cause. We know very little about what specific aspects of college life – student societies, faculty, mentorship, internships, facilities, activities – set students up for success. Because we find it difficult to quantify the value of an education, we tend to spend it on the elaborately visible and marketable, rather than the more difficult to quantify, but genuinely enriching parts of the college experience.

The next article in this series will examine the incentives faced by institutions to spend – or not spend – tuition and tax dollars on certain aspects of a college education.

*Dr.Laura Williams is an award-winning speechwriter and political ghostwriter, running a small strategic communications firm located in Atlanta, Georgia. Her experience includes political campaigns, public affairs, and crisis communication for corporate, nonprofit, and individual clients. She holds dual Bachelor’s degrees from Susquehanna University, a Master’s from Johns Hopkins University, and a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition at Georgia State University.