GEORGIA’S BROADENED MEDICAL MARIJUANA BILL An expansion of Georgia’s medical marijuana law passed on Thursday, March 30th 2017 from the state Senate, sending the bill to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature. He is expected to sign the bill thus creating the new law. The soon to be new law started its journey in the House when Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, sponsored a bill that would have significantly broadened the scope of medical marijuana treatment. Not surprisingly, as the bill traveled through both chambers, it became “watered down” and lost some important provisions. While the final bill was not as broad as Peake and thousands of Georgians would have liked, it did provide for a major step in the right direction for healthcare in Georgia. “The existing law has been in place for two years and the sky hasn’t fallen yet,” said Peake, who called the bill a “bipartisan, compassion issue.” Peake was referring to the current law passed in 2015 that legalized the possession of medical cannabis oil to people with certain medical conditions. However, that bill did not provide for any way to legally produce the oil in state, and patients complained that getting it from other states is both expensive and risky. Today, marijuana is designated as a Class 1 controlled substance, meaning that the government does not recognize that it has any medical value, and therefore has been difficult to study. I cannot find a plausible reason why it deserves a Class 1 designation. The main reason it is misclassified is because many people still associate marijuana with the turbulent 1960’s, counterculture, and just consider it taboo. Marijuana simply has a stigma that only time and education can eradicate. I don’t necessarily care what other states legislate. But, it is interesting to note that Forty-two states have legislation allowing some use of cannabis. Georgia is one of 14 states that have low THC cannabis oil programs. During the hearings on the bill, many parents of sick children came forward to tell stories of how cannabis had positively affected their lives. Brian Underwood talked about his son, who has a rare, severe skin condition where “the skin can blister or come off the body at the slightest touch.” Under the current law, Underwood’s son does not qualify for medical marijuana, but he explained that he uses cannabis oil and cream to treat his son, with remarkable results. He called on the legislature to adjust the law so that he doesn’t have to keep breaking it to care for his son. Dr. David Bradford, a professor at the University of Georgia, testified that in his own peer-reviewed study, he found that states with medical marijuana programs saw a reduction in the rate of opioid addiction and the number of opioid-related deaths. The study published in Health Affairs Journal in 2016 also showed a correlation between medical marijuana programs and a drop in the number of pharmaceuticals prescribed, which cost states less in Medicaid payments. “Appropriately designed medical cannabis laws can save both lives and money,” Bradford said. The final bill that passed is called Senate Bill 16. It would add six conditions eligible for treatment with a limited form of cannabis oil allowed in Georgia: Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS, autism, epidermolysis bullosa, peripheral neuropathy and Tourette’s syndrome. Additionally, patients in hospice care would also be able to possess the oil. Other changes include a 45-day reciprocity window for people who come to Georgia from another state, if they have a medical marijuana registration card issued by another state. I don’t smoke marijuana or use the oils. But, I want to see people with medical conditions, like autism, have every available remedy at their doctor’s disposal for treatment. Georgia parents, like me, will continue to support legislation that further expands access to medical marijuana in the future. One of our local senators made a statement that provides a good summary. Senator Matt Brass, R-Newnan said, “Today we’re going to provide more access to Georgians with very specific illnesses, and we’ll provide doctors more treatment options for patients.” That is good news today.