ATLANTA - A state lawmaker filed new legislation Wednesday to legalize the growth and production of medical marijuana in Georgia.
Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, is the main sponsor of the bill (HB 722), which he called, "Haleigh's Hope Act Part II."
Last year, the legislature passed "Haleigh's Hope Act," which was named for Haleigh Cox, a little girl who suffers from severe seizures.
That bill created a state registry where patients with eight specific conditions could apply for a medical cannabis card. That card allows them to possess and use medical cannabis in Georgia without the fear of prosecution.
The final version of "Haleigh's Hope Act," however, left Georgia patients unable to acquire it. It is illegal to grow or produce cannabis in our state; federal law prohibits people from buying cannabis and transporting it across state lines.
"It's a big problem because right now I either have to go to Colorado or find any kind of creative ways to get it, which are not always 100 percent legal under federal law," said Sebastien Cotte, whose son, Jagger suffers from mitochondrial disease.
The Cottes moved to Colorado for a year so that they could access cannabis oil for their son, but they moved back to Stone Mountain in September. They are one of several Georgia families lobbying state officials to allow in-state cultivation.
"We can't just be doing this back and forth all the time," Cotte explained. "It's expensive. It's very taxing physically, emotionally."
HB 722 will face some significant hurdles. Governor Nathan Deal has publicly expressed concerns about allowing marijuana to be grown in Georgia.
"Any piece of legislation faces its challenges and this one will face some huge challenges as well, but I'm optimistic that we can address the concerns that law enforcement has expressed, the issues that the Governor has had as well, too," said Rep. Peake. "I think we can provide a compelling argument to the Governor and my colleagues that this is the logical next step for hurting Georgians here in Georgia."
Cotte said passage of this bill could mean the difference between his family staying home or moving to Colorado permanently.
"At the end of the day, we have to do what's best for Jagger and that might mean us going back to Colorado, except that this time it would be for good," Cotte said.
The bill would also expand the list of ailments that qualify for the state's medical cannabis registry from eight to 17. Those new conditions include glaucoma, Tourette's, autism and post traumatic stress disorder.
If lawmakers pass HB 722, the Georgia Department of Public Health would be required to choose two to six manufacturers to produce medical cannabis. Those manufacturers would then have to start providing medical cannabis to patients by July 2017.