State lawmakers scramble to reach medical cannabis cultivation deal

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A handful of state lawmakers met for hours Monday afternoon as they tried to work out a deal to establish an in-state medical cannabis cultivation program.

The Georgia State Senate and the House of Representatives approved different versions of "Georgia's HOPE Act," which outlines licensing procedures and the number of potential cannabis oil vendors.  Because both chambers refused to agree to the other's position, they assigned a conference committee to try to hammer out their differences. 

"We really do feel like the House and the Senate can come together and try to do something that is in the best interest of the patients," said Shannon Cloud, a parent advocate for in-state cultivation.

Under current Georgia law, patients with seizure disorders, PTSD, autism and a dozen other conditions can apply to be on the Low THC Oil Registry. That allows them to legally possess up to 20 ounces of Low THC oil in Georgia.

The problem, however, is that patients and their families must break federal law to smuggle the oil into the state. An in-state cultivation and distribution program would make the products more accessible.

"One thing I'm passionate about is all the other autism families in Georgia. I know their struggle. I know their stress and currently, right now, because it's illegal, they don't even know it exists," said Dale Jackson, whose son, Colin, uses THC oil to treat symptoms of autism. "That's one of the things I'm looking forward to the most is that when we can actually inform and educate other parents so they can get some relief."

The House version called for as many as 10 licensed vendors to set up shop in Georgia, but the Senate version is much more restrictive, calling for private licenses only if two state universities pass on the opportunity.

"I've been very, very open and upfront with this that there is absolutely no part of me that wants any sort of steps towards recreational use of marijuana," said Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. "I think that's what we all are really trying to work together to make sure that that is not an unintended consequence of any decisions that we make down here."

But parents whose children rely on THC Oil said the bill does not open to door for recreational use. 

"They have to vote for recreational.  It's not something that's just going to magically happen just because our kids finally got medicine," said Jackson.

The conference committee adjourned Monday afternoon without reaching a compromise. They plan to resume negotiations Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. Some advocates, though, fear the bill is all but dead for the session and they put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the state senate, which they believe will not budge.