Moderated by Tom Sabulis
One of the stranger turns of the recent legislative session found lawmakers holding hostage and suddenly defeating an immensely popular “medical marijuana” bill. The bill’s sponsor writes today about the positives of allowing cannabis oil to treat children with seizures, and hopes Gov. Nathan Deal might find a way to help through executive action. In our second column, the mother of a young girl who would benefit from cannabis oil criticizes the political process she holds responsible for denying relief to her child and others.
Commenting is open.
By Allen Peake
When the 2014 General Assembly session began ten short weeks ago, the odds of a medical cannabis bill passing this year would have been longer than having a perfect March Madness bracket in Vegas, because no one was crazy enough to take that bet.
But by the time the last day of the legislative session arrived, the issue of legalizing cannabidiol oil in Georgia to help children with seizure disorders had picked up such momentum and popularity that its passage seemed almost a certainty. But, despite the overwhelming support, the effort failed on the last night.
Many people have asked me what in the heck happened?
I am as frustrated as anyone that a bill that would provide relief for sick children and hope for their parents and had near unanimous support in both the House and Senate isn’t now on the way to the Governor’s desk. It would be easy to point fingers at others, and in my frustration that option is very tempting to call out those few that blocked this bill, but placing blame at this point is useless. Instead, I want to thank my many courageous colleagues in the House and Senate whose hearts were changed, and who eventually wholeheartedly supported this effort, especially Speaker David Ralston.
Our focus from here on must remain on getting these children the help they need and bringing the Georgia families home who have left our state to seek cannabidiol oil where it is legal. Simply put, this oil is a potential life saver, and it is improving the lives of so many already in other states where it has been legalized. Meet three children who have left our great state to move to Colorado.
Hunter Klepinger is eight years old. He moved with his mom, dad and brother from Cobb County to Colorado last November, away from loving grandparents who were actively involved in his daily life, and started taking cannabidiol oil right before Thanksgiving. Since then, Hunter’s seizures have decreased more than 60 percent. He had horrible clusters of seizures, convulsing for up to 10 minutes, almost daily. Those clusters are now under 2 minutes and the last one was February 19, over a month ago! He’s calmer and happier than ever. His life quality is drastically better. The Klepingers desperately want to move back home to Georgia.
Four-year-old Haleigh Cox, the inspiration behind Haleigh’s Hope Act, HB 885, moved to Colorado with her Mom from Monroe County over two weeks ago. She has now been taking cannabidiol oil for over a week and had just four seizures Tuesday, down from 200+ a week ago. She is more alert and has started smiling again. Her mom has not seen her daughter smile since she was 2 years old . This may seem very minor, but for a child that can only lay there and have seizure after seizure, this is worth celebrating! The sad part for this family is that Haleigh’s mom, Janea, is in Colorado by herself. Haleigh’s dad, Brian, has to stay in Georgia in order to keep his job, which means that they will be separated during this critical time in Haleigh’s life. We need to bring them home.
And then there’s 10-year-old Caden Clark. He still has seizures every day and frequently enters “status epilepticus”, a seizure lasting longer than five minutes. This last hope treatment of medical cannabis brought their family to Colorado. The seizures control Caden’s life and in turn, his family’s. Caden’s mom and brother are now living in Colorado while their father, a 26-year veteran with the Atlanta Police Department is still in Georgia working to provide for their family. Yes, they are separated by over 1,500 miles.
These three children are only the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of families that will become medical refugees in Colorado if we don’t act. But more importantly, children will die if we don’t take action soon. There is good news though. Governor Nathan Deal announced this week he will seek potential options for an executive order that offers an immediate solution. These families deserve that and we must keep fighting for them.
State Rep. Allen Peake is a Republican from Macon.
By Shannon Cloud
I am one of the many parents pushing for medical cannabis here in Georgia for our children with seizure disorders. Our eight-year-old daughter, Alaina, suffers from Dravet Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy.
We fought to educate the legislators and the public that this is indeed life-saving medicine, without the side effects of the many FDA-approved drugs our children are forced to take today. We never dreamed that we would succeed in that fight so quickly, and get a bill introduced this session, only to have it come crashing down due to political games played with our sick children.
After House Bill 885 passed the House 171-4, Sen. Renee Unterman, recognizing the huge support, attached a completely separate, unrelated bill to HB 885 that mandated insurance coverage for autistic children ages 6 and under, a bill that did not have much support in the House.
Regardless of the merits of each bill — autism is an important issue, too — they are not related whatsoever; one dealt with life-saving medicine, and the other, with insurance. The only reason they were combined was because of politics. Sen. Unterman held our bill and our children hostage, and admitted it. On the Senate floor when presenting the bill for a vote, Sen. Unterman, holding the two bills in each hand, said, “The medical marijuana goes nowhere, unless this right over here goes with it, which is the autism (bill).”
The Senate proceeded to pass the combined bill 54-0, but the House refused to consider it because of the autism insurance mandate. A new bill with only medical cannabis was approved 168-2 by the House late on the last night of the legislative session. Our parents frantically pleaded with senators to pass it, and every senator we talked to indicated the bill would likely pass if we could just get a vote. Parents and legislators were making requests to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle to allow a vote, but he refused to bring our bill up on the Senate floor because it didn’t have the autism bill included.
My husband and I talked with Lt. Gov. Cagle in his office a few weeks ago, and he looked us in the eyes and said he was going to help our children.
Where was that help when we needed it the most?
How can a bill with such overwhelming support (393-6 votes total) not be passed? How can two people be able to thwart the democratic process? How can they play games with our sick children, some of whom may not live to the next legislative session?
In the end, special-needs children were pitted against each other. This is despicable, immoral behavior. The explanation we’ve heard is that this is “just politics,” and they are “standing up to the House.” I’ve heard some awful stories about politics, but I never thought I’d see sick children being used as political pawns. And how can “standing up to the House” be more important than my child’s life, much less the thousands of other lives this could have benefited?
We are hopeful based on Governor Deal’s recent comments that something can be done at the executive level before the next legislative session. We will obviously continue to fight for this medicine for our children, at both the state and federal levels.
Twenty-one states now have medical marijuana laws — Alabama passed theirs last week — and Georgia could have been one more to put pressure on the federal government, if only our legislators had done the right thing.
As a Christian, I believe in forgiveness for those who trespass against us. However, I am struggling with this since we also have to fight for those that cannot fight for themselves: our children.
We will be praying we find that forgiveness, but we will also be praying for these leaders, that they will never again use innocent children for their political agendas.
Shannon Cloud lives in Smyrna.