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Cannabis oil expansion approved in legislature

  • By Sarah Fay Campbell
  • |
  • Mar. 31, 2017 - 5:34 AM

Just after noon on Thursday, the Georgia General Assembly gave final passage to a bill expanding the conditions that can be legally treated with a medicine derived from marijuana. 

The Georgia Senate voted 45-6 to approve the final version of Senate Bill 16. Now SB 16 goes to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature. It was the last day of the 2017 General Assembly session. 

The bill passed before the Senate recessed for lunch – instead of being down to the wire in the final minutes of the session. 

Under the bill, treatment with medication containing cannabidiol, a component of marijuana, as well as small amounts of THC, the main psychoactive component of marijuana, and a THC acid, is allowed for five new conditions: severe autism in children and any form of autism in those over 18, the skin disease epidermolysis bullosa, and severe or end-state AIDS, Tourette’s Syndrome and peripheral neuropathy. The bill also allows CBD oil to be used by anyone under hospice care. 

Critics have argued more scientific testing of medical efficacy was needed first. 

“Georgia has decided to lead the way in autism treatment,” said advocate and parent Dale Jackson in a Facebook video Thursday afternoon. Jackson, a Troup County resident, has been advocating to have autism as an approved condition since 2015. His son, Colin, has severe autism. 

Jackson thanked legislators who helped the bill achieve passage, the media, and supporters. 

“We will continue the fight for actual access. But for now, we will celebrate,” he said. 

Georgians with seizure disorders, Crohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, sickle cell disease and severe or end-state amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's’ disease or cancer are already able to use CBD oil.

Though it’s legal to use the oil if you have a recommendation from your doctor and have a patient card issued by the state, actually getting the oil can be difficult. Oils with less than 0.3 percent THC can be shipped in the mail, but oils with more THC have to be smuggled into the state or produced illegally in the state.  

Several weeks ago the House approved House Bill 65, which added post traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and autoimmune disease to the list of conditions that could be treated with the marijuana derivative, and removed the “severe or end stage” requirement. But the bill died in the Senate. 

SB 16 originally added only autism to the list, and reduced the maximum percentage of THC allowed in CBD oil to 3 percent. 

Once SB 16 made it to the House, however, representatives removed much of the language of SB 16 and replaced it with that of HB 65. 

A similar thing happened in 2016, but the Senate never took a vote on the changed bill, and it died on the last day of the session. This year, however, a compromise was reached with the Senate that removed PTSD, chronic pain and autoimmune disease and kept the “severe or end stage” language.

Although the final vote was overwhelming, the generally more conservative Senate has been resistant to relax restrictions on use of the medication over concerns greater access could lead to abuses on who qualifies and perhaps a campaign one day for recreational use of marijuana. Advocates for this year’s bill and families with medical conditions being added have repeatedly stressed their goal is not unrestricted use of marijuana, as have legislators sponsoring the bills.