Deal signs executive order for medical marijuana bill


  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • Clarksville, Ga., resident Sarabeth Fowler said that the state's medical marijuana bill will help her eight-year-old daughter, Ava, gain access to a drug that "completely takes away her seizures."

After more than a year of heated debates, state lawmakers have finally approved Georgia’s first-ever law legalizing the possession of a liquid form of medical marijuana to help treat some health conditions.

House Bill 1, also known as “Haleigh’s Hope Act,” allows the possession of cannabis oil for eight different medical diagnoses. According to the governor’s office, the conditions eligible for medical marijuana use include cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), seizure disorder, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, Parkinson’s disease and sickle cell disease.

The bill will not be formally signed until the end of the legislative session on April 2. But at this morning's press conference, Gov. Nathan Deal signed an executive order to prepare law enforcement and healthcare providers for new changes.

Deal’s executive order instructs the Medical Composite Board to create a patient waver and physician certification form. Once the MCB completes that process, patients seeking cannabis oil treatment will be able to acquire the forms from the Georgia Department of Public Health. Deal said patients who receive approval from their healthcare provider will be issued a card that authorizes their possession of the cannabis oil.

“Sometimes as we review bills after the session is concluded, we find that there are conflicting provisions in one piece of legislation that may override or in some cases totally cancel out provisions of other bills,” Deal told reporters. “We do not want to take that chance that that could happen,”

According to Deal, MCB members are set to meet on April 2 and begin taking those steps to make medical marijuana available to residents.

As the medical marijuana bill notes, cannabis oil must contain no more than 5 percent THC, the ingredient that causes marijuana users to get high. Deal said the medicine must also be rich in cannabidiol, or CBD, a compound that does not cause a high, and be used solely for medical purposes.

Haleigh Cox, the young girl after which the bill was named, was present at the press conference with her parents, plus several other families invested in the bill's passage. Cox was diagnosed with mitochondrial disorder. Before her mother began giving her the cannabis oil, Cox suffered from over 200 seizures per day.

But like 16 other Georgia families, the Cox family last year was forced to relocate to Colorado to obtain treatment after the medical marijuana bill failed to pass in the final hours of the legislative session.

“This means the world to us, we’ve been separated for the longest time," said Janea Cox, Haleigh’s mother. "For this to go through, we can come back from Colorado and not have to worry about being away from each other."

Moving forward, Deal and state Rep. Allen Peake R-Macon, the bill's sponsor, will look at the possibility of in-state medical marijuana production — something that was cut out of this year's bill. Echoing past remarks made during his “State of the State” address, Deal assured Georgians that the legalization of recreational marijuana won’t be happening under his watch. “We want to be able to bring children home from Colorado without us having to become Colorado,” he said.

Based on the number of Georgians with qualifying medical conditions, Peake said about 500,000 people could have access to the cannabis oil to treat their medical conditions. But Rachelle Yeung, legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, doesn't consider Georgia to be a "medical marijuana state" given the bill's strict limitations.

"Unfortunately, this law does not provide sick and vulnerable patients with safe, legal access to the medicine," says Yeung, who commends Peake for fighting for medical marijuana legalization. "Instead, it seems registered patients are expected to smuggle the oil back from other states in which medical marijuana products can be legally produced."

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