After quite a bit of debate in the legislature, a medical marijuana expansion bill has finally been passed by both the House and the Senate. The bill that made it through to the end is a revised version of Senate Bill 16, which had previously been approved by the Senate and saw a couple major revisions during the review in the House when Senator Ben Watson and Representative Allen Peake came to an agreement between their two versions of similar bills. After being approved by the House, the bill went back to the Senate for a final vote where they approved it this week with a vote of 45-6.
The bill originally had allowed patients with autism to possess cannabis oil – adding them to the list that currently allowed cannabis oil for nine different conditions – but it had also attempted to limit the amount of THC in the cannabis oil to 3%, less than the 5% allowed under current law. The House bill had allowed for a much larger number of conditions to be added, and kept the current laws regarding the concentration of THC in the cannabis oil allowed to be possessed by patients. In the end, the two bills were merged, allowing autism, AIDs/HIV, Tourette’s syndrome, and Alzheimer’s, among others – and dropping the 3% provision from the Senate bill.
“Today we’re going to provide more access to Georgians with very specific illnesses,” said Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan. “And we’ll provide doctors more treatment options for patients.”
Even though this legislation does dramatically increase the number of patients who will qualify to possess medical cannabis oil, it doesn’t actually provide a way for patients to access the medicine once a doctor has recommended it. So if Senator Brass – and other lawmakers – really want to make a difference for these patients, providing real access to safe medicine is the next thing they need to consider.
As it stands patients must still obtain the cannabis oil illegally – which leaves them few options and probably adds to the reasons why many patients will continue to go without the medicine they need. Yet another reason is the fact that low THC cannabis oil is not shown to aid as much as high THC cannabis products for many of the conditions that have been on the list, or are being added to the list, of qualifying conditions. However, the fact that they have recognized that medical cannabis can be beneficial to these patients is definitely a step in the right direction.
Now that the bill has been approved by both the House and the Senate it has been sent over to the governor for a signature – but so far the governor’s office has declined to say whether or not Governor Deal intends to sign the bill or not. Hopefully, in a matter of weeks, this medical marijuana expansion bill will become law, and then progressive lawmakers can move on to the next logical step (one that should have been a priority before now), which is providing legal and safe access to medical marijuana within the state of Georgia.