- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - A new organization wants Georgia lawmakers to allow marijuana to be grown and harvested under close monitoring to treat certain diseases.

The effort comes less than a year after lawmakers approved a medical cannabis registry in Georgia. The group, Georgians for Freedom in Health Care, held a launch event Tuesday at the Capitol. Organizers said they plan to spend the next few months talking to doctors, law enforcement officials and lawmakers about in-state cultivation of cannabis oil.

Under Georgia’s new law, people with certain medical conditions and a doctor’s approval can register with the state for permission to possess cannabis oil. But the product still can’t be legally produced in Georgia, meaning patients must have it shipped or travel to a state where that’s permitted.

Reaching that compromise took years of lobbying, news conferences and other events focused on young children with seizure disorders. Conservative lawmakers and law enforcement in Georgia have spoken against in-state cultivation in the past.

Expanding state law to allow in-state production would give more patients access, without the expense and risk they face now, said Shannon Cloud, the group’s co-chair along with her husband, Blaine.

The couple’s 10-year-old daughter, Alaina, has a form of epilepsy that causes seizures. Alaina is enrolled in a clinical trial for cannabis oil and still takes six medications each day, which can take away her appetite, Shannon Cloud said.

“It’s not fair for us to have to make these life-threatening decisions to go get (the oil) somewhere else,” she said, adding that some patients need strains of oil with slightly higher levels of tetrahydrocannabinol than allowed in Georgia.

Lawmakers set a 5 percent cap of THC, because the chemical causes marijuana’s psychoactive effects.

A commission of lawmakers, law enforcement officials, doctors and researchers meets again Wednesday to continue reviewing the state’s medical marijuana policy. State Rep. Allen Peake, who chairs the group and sponsored last year’s medical marijuana bill, said members will make recommendations to Gov. Nathan Deal by the end of the year.

Peake, who is not working with the new group, said the commission has learned about two models for in-state production. Companies could apply for state licenses to grow plants, manufacture oil and distribute it; or the state can step in to handle the final step of distributing oil to qualified patients.

Either system would be closely regulated and give patients easier access than the current law allows, he said. But he called getting legislative approval “a huge challenge” in 2016.

“I think there’s still a large learning curve for the medical community, law enforcement, for my colleagues to realize that we’re not going down the path to Colorado,” he said. “We’re only looking for a solution for truly hurting citizens.”

Since June, 193 physicians and 251 patients have signed up for the state’s medical cannabis registry, according to the Department of Public Health. An agency spokeswoman said 310 caregivers also have registered on behalf of patients too young or unable to manage their own care.

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This story has been corrected to show that 251, not 261, patients have signed up for the state’s medical cannabis registry, according to the Department of Public Health.


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