Two bills concerning medical marijuana, including one that expands eligibility to people with HIV, moved forward last week in the state House and Senate.
Rep. Allen Peake (photo), a Macon Republican, has championed medical marijuana legislation for several years and pushed for Haleigh’s Hope Act, the state's current medical cannabis law, in 2015. This year Peake is sponsoring two media marijuana measures, including House Bill 65. The legislation would expand the list of medical conditions eligible for cannabis to include HIV and AIDS, as well as Tourette's syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, intractable pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and Alzheimer's disease.
After two rounds of recent hearings, the House Medical Cannabis Working Group, which Peake chairs, is ready to send the bill – with a few recommended changes – to the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee. Testimony came from a carefully culled list of doctors, patients and parents over the course of two meetings.
“The Working Group unanimously agreed to make four recommendations to HB 65, the existing bill, and adding reciprocity with other states, adding hospice care as a condition, adding an additional definition to intractable pain,” Peake said after the hearing on Wednesday.
The panel also recommended that a requirement to report side effects be shifted from doctors to patients.
In the Senate, a bill from Sens. Ben Watson and Renee Unterman, both Republicans, would add only autism to the list of covered disorders and reduce the legal THC level from 5 percent to 3 percent. Last year, Unterman refused to hold a hearing for Peake’s medical marijuana legislation, and it took some maneuvering to circumvent her Health & Human Services Committee to move Peake's legislation forward.
But last week, Unterman's committee passed her Senate Bill 16 and it moves to the Rules Committee on its way to a possible floor vote in the Senate.
Peake said he's hopeful that the bills will continue to move through the legislative process.
“This is a long journey, and you know passing a piece of legislation is never easy. But I think both the Senate having passed a version that includes autism and then the House hopefully moving toward a bill that will include more conditions proves that it’s time for us to add and improve our existing law,” he said.
HIV was cut from the list of medical conditions in Peake's medical marijuana legislation that became law in 2015. An effort to expand the legislation – and the conditions medical marijuana could treat – stalled last year in part over opposition from Gov. Nathan Deal.
Peake said he will work to keep HIV and AIDS in HB 65, but stressed that support from HIV advocates would help. It's a point he made when the legislation was introduced last month.
“We haven’t had anyone here really advocating on behalf of those who have AIDS and HIV. So I feel strongly that it needs to stay in, and I’ll work diligently to make sure it does stay in, but we do need advocates to speak up,” Peake said.