Republican State Representative Allen Peake of Macon was the guest speaker Wednesday as members of the Georgia Young Republicans enjoyed lunch during their day at the Capitol. In his talk, he explained what motivated him to work towards allowing medical marijuana in the Peach State, both in the passage of last year’s House Bill 1, and in introducing legislation this year that would allow madical marijuana to be grown in Georgia.
“Two years ago,” Peake told his audience, “I had a mother send me an email with a very simple request. ‘Help my family.'” The person sending that email was the mother of four year old Haleigh Cox, who suffered from seizures. The family had heard that medical marijuana could relieve seizure symptoms, and was planning to move to Colorado, where Haleigh could get the treatment she needed.
Peake listened, and ended up meeting Haleigh at Eggleston Medical Center. He asked himself what he would do if Haleigh were his child. And then he decided that the time had come to change Georgia law to allow the family to use medical marijuana in the Peach State. Thus began the two year effort to pass House Bill 1, called Haleigh’s Hope Act. That measure, of course passed the legislature last April and the Cox family returned to Georgia last summer. Passing that bill was an accomplishment that brought the possibility of relief to almost 500 patients so far. But, Peake explained, that wasn’t enough.
There was one big hole in that bill, and that was, ‘Where do we get it? How do we access it?’ You can have legal possession of this product here in Georgia, but you’re going to have to break federal law in order to get it and bring it back, or potentially break federal law by having it shipped to you.
That fact led Peake to the next step, which was the introduction of House Bill 722, which sets up a regulatory infrastructure for a limited number of licensees to grow and process marijuana into an oil or tablet that could be distributed to properly registered patients in order to improve their symptoms.
Yet, Peake admits he has a tough row ahead to get the measure passed and signed by Governor Deal. Complaints about the bill as introduced include the fact that it would apply to a much larger number of conditions, including acute pain, which is a subjective condition that could allow medical marijuana to be distributed to a much larger number of patients.
Other concerns include the bill allows for varying amounts of THC content, ass opposed to the minimal THC content in HB 1. THC is the intoxicating chemical in marijuana, and some worry that people would take the medical marijuana in order to get high. Finally, wording in the original bill would in effect create a protected class of people taking the drug, who could not be fired from their jobs because of the marijuana use. A substitute bill is being prepared that allegedly will address some of these concerns.
“Here’s the message I think you really need to hear about this piece of legislation,” Peake told his audience. “We need to make sure that we stop making criminals of parents, of sick children, and others who have medical diagnoses benefits by providing access here in Georgia. That’s the bottom line on this issue.”
Peake related the story of how he had broken the law to bring medical cannabis oil in from Colorado, breaking federal law in the process. He said he told the story to illustrate the challenge that Georgians have in order to obtain the material that would treat their illnesses. Peake maintained that House Bill 722 could fix that problem.
The bill could still face an uphill battle. The Georgia Baptist Convention opposes the measure. Many in law enforcement believe that the bill is yet another baby step towards legalization. For his part, Peake denies this, and maintains he will fight as hard opposing unfettered marijuana legalization as he is fighting for medical cannabis.
In his talk, Rep. Peake explained why he has invested so much political capital into the effort to legalize medical marijuana, and announced that he was not using the issue as a springboard to run for for higher office. A potential run for Lt. Governor was thrown out as a trial balloon back in July.
I get asked all the time, what has been motivating me on this issue. … I’m not doing this to run for higher office. I’m not going to run for Lt. Governor. I’m not going to run for Governor. I’m going to be here probably for another couple of years, and I’m probably going to be done. And so for those that think all I’m doing is grandstanding to run for statewide office, I’m not running, OK?
But I’m telling you what has motivated me. It’s the stories like your friend Liz, a 50 year old soccer mom who got brain cancer. The story of the veteran whose wife of 40 years has multiple sclerosis, and has been in pain every day. And the mom who has a child that suffers from seizures. And there is not a day that goes by that I don’t get a letter or a phone call or a message from someone in this state saying, “Thank you so much for passing a law that allows me to have access to medical cannabis oil that is changing the quality of our life every single day.”
And that is what has motivated me to move forward on this no matter what the cost. I mean politically, no matter what the cost may be in other areas. And this, folks, is a fight worth fighting.
At the end of the day, Peake said, medical cannabis is medicine that can have a real difference for citizens in our state.