On February 1, Jim Galloway of the Atlanta Journal-Consitution reported that Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has introduced a bill in the General Assembly that would legalize a medical form of marijuana for use in treating epileptic seizures in children. Even more surprising is that Peake hopes to have the bill become law within a matter of weeks.
The bill, dubbed H.B. 885, has been given the nickname of “Haleigh’s Hope Act” for Haleigh Cox, a Monroe County four-year-old who suffers from severe seizures. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta spokeswoman Patti Gregory told the Macon Telegraph that hospital sees hundreds of children like Haleigh who have as many as 100 seizures each day and who don’t respond to other medications.
The bill would allow cannabis extracts and compounds such as cannabidiol (CBD) to be recommended by doctors at academic research hospitals. CBD is a non-hallucinogenic oil derived from the cannabis plant. Although there has been little research so far, there is anecdotal evidence that CBD can help some young victims of acute epilepsy.
Rep. Ben Watson (R-Savannah) told the Telegraph, “The evidence that’s there relating to seizure disorders looks like when it is added on, it sometimes has very dramatic results.” Watson, a medical doctor, was the first cosponsor of Peake’s bill. Galloway reports that about 90 members of the 180 seat House of Representatives have also signed on to cosponsor the bill.
“At present, there has not been enough evidence-based research around the use of CBD studying its safety and tolerability in children with seizure disorders, and thus should not be used generally,” CHOA’s Gregory said. “However, we are in support of legislation that would allow clinical research by academic institutions.”
The Georgia bill would not be an attempt to usher in de facto recreational use of marijuana as medical marijuana bills have been in some states. The text of the bill contains a clause that explicitly rejects the recreational use of the drug. The proposed law would not allow stoners to self-medicate by smoking a joint.
“What I kept hearing when I jumped into this thing is that (the bill) needed to be tightly restricted, very regulated, managed by doctors, limited in scope, in oil-based form. That’s what we drew up,” Peake told the AJC. “We had to fight the perception from some of my colleagues that we were going to go down a path allowing 6-year-olds to smoke a joint and that we were going to have pot shops on every corner. Or that any physician in the state could prescribe it.”
Marijuana for research and prescription would come from the National Institute on Drug Abuse if the law is passed. This federal agency, a part of the National Institutes of Health, grows a limited amount of marijuana for research purposes. Research facilities would apply to the Georgia Composite Medical Board for authorization to conduct cannabis research and the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency would create rules for storing and distributing the drug.
The bill will likely be assigned to the Health and Human Services Committee in the House. To become law, it must pass both the House and Senate before the current General Assembly session ends in March.
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