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Georgia Explores Medical Marijuana Options

By Christina A. Cassidy Associated Press | 4/4/2014, 11:51 a.m.
In this AP file photo from January, medical marijuana advocate Barbara Kutchback, of Monroe, Ga., holds a photo of her 3-year-old granddaughter as she listens to other advocates tell of their children’s suffering, after a bill to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes was introduced in the State House chamber, in Atlanta. Kutchback’s granddaughter suffers from a rare epilepsy disease and they believe marijuana can help relieve her suffering.

If the state were to revive the old cannabis research program, another challenge might be finding doctors willing to oversee it. The Georgia Composite Medical Board in 2011 had sought to revive the program by recruiting physicians to serve on an oversight panel and there was little interest, according to LaSharn Hughes, the board's executive director.

That was before medical marijuana became a hot topic during the legislative session and families rallied together to share stories of children suffering from dozens of seizures a day. Although there is little academic research pointing to the benefits of cannabis oil, the families say anecdotal evidence out of Colorado, where it is available, is reason for hope.

Under the 1980 law, patients, doctors or pharmacists who participate in the program would be immune from state prosecution for marijuana possession. The law doesn't allow patients to grow their own cannabis and it could only be obtained from a state-certified pharmacy. Numerous rules would need to be changed, including expanding those eligible for the program to include people with severe seizure disorders.

Hughes said the medical board has not heard from the governor's office about the old research program, but is ready to help if needed.

Some families, however, are not waiting for the state to act. Janae Cox, whose 4-year-old daughter Haleigh inspired Peake to sponsor the bill, has been in Colorado for the last few weeks. Cox said her daughter, who suffered up to 200 seizures a day as a result of Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, has shown considerable improvement since beginning the cannabis oil. In recent days, Haleigh has had as few as four seizures a day and at most 10.

"We couldn't wait any longer. We were going to lose Haleigh if we didn't get out here,'' Cox said, adding her daughter is now smiling and trying to sit up on her own.

Cox said she knows Deal will be limited in what he can do but remains hopeful.

"With the governor on our side, it gives us a renewed hope,'' she said. "But we'll always have hope that our state will do the right thing.''