GA House of Representatives Committee revisits medical marijuana proposal

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ATLANTA, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – A Georgia House of Representatives Committee revisited State Representative Allen Peake’s proposal to expand the state’s medical marijuana law Monday.

The Judiciary Non-Civil Committee met in the Coverdell Legislative Office Building in Atlanta to review the House Bill 722’s details. The committee met a few weeks ago to hear testimony from people who support the proposal. At that time, Peake was reworking some of the wording in the bill and the committee didn’t want to review it until it was finished.

The hearing allowed Peake to explain the bill to the committee so members could ask questions. Peake explained the main changes to his substitute bill were adding criminal penalties for violators of the proposed law, giving more power to the Georgia Department of Public Health and removing the Medical Cannabis Task Force. Peake felt the task force was redundant. He added the changes mainly affected the bill’s efficiency rather than policy.

Peach County Sheriff Terry Deese was at the meeting with other Georgia sheriff’s to show his opposition for the proposal. He said he wants to help people who are suffering, but thinks this bill could “open Pandora’s box.”

“Every drug dealer or drug abuser we’ve arrested over the years, I can guarantee you, every one of them, [if] you ask them ‘where did you start?’ [They’d reply] I started smoking marijuana. They didn’t start with heroine or crack or meth. They started with marijuana. That’s the entrance level and we’re just concerned that that’s where we’re going,” said Sheriff Deese.

Committee members had questions about the criminal penalties people will face if they break the law and a clause in the definition of intractable pain, which is a condition Peake wants to add to the already existing list of conditions that can be treated by cannabis oil.

Peake didn’t have an answer for a few questions, but he assured the committee he would find them. Some committee members are specifically asking for clarification on the “solid substance” HB 722 allows cannabis users to possess. Peake explained the solid substance is a processed extract of marijuana that goes into a capsule. Members want to know specifically what’s in the capsule and if/how it can be abused.

The committee set a tentative date for an opposition hearing Friday morning.

HB 722 proposes a model for growing marijuana for medical use in Georgia. It also wants to add conditions to the already existing list of eight that can use cannabis oil to treat their symptoms. Supporters of the proposal say they need this bill because otherwise, people will be breaking federal law to get the drug and bring it back to Georgia. It’s illegal to cross state lines with marijuana. Those who oppose expanding the state’s existing law claim it’s a slippery slope that will eventually lead to the legalization of recreational marijuana. Peake has reiterated this is not his intention. Law enforcement opposes HB 722 because it’s against federal law.