Moderated by Rick Badie
The General Assembly was a breath away from adopting legislation that would have legalized medicinal marijuana. A supporter of the such a law outlines what it must entail to ensure that patients who benefit from cannabis are granted access safely and legally. Meanwhile, a community activist questions how any state could legalize a drug that currently bypasses FDA testing and research.
Passion must prevail over politics
By James Bell
No one would have predicted that medical marijuana legislation — with near-unanimous support from the Georgia House and Senate, the governor’s office, law enforcement agencies and the public — would have failed to pass the General Assembly.
So goes House Bill 885, legislation that would have expanded an old law allowing the use of the cannabis plant — marijuana — for certain medical conditions.
Unfortunately HB 885 would not have delivered the medicine to patients who could benefit. It did not allow for in-state cultivation, and it limited the medicine to one compound: cannabidiol. Lawmakers looked to Colorado as a model of reform, but refused to consider and implement similar legislation that delivers safe and legal medicine to patients.
HB 885 would have allowed patients and caregivers to go to legal states, obtain cannabis products and transport them across state lines back to Georgia — in violation of various state and federal laws. Encouraging black-market smuggling of a controlled substance is not the approach Georgia should consider.
Cannabis has been safely used by mankind for thousands of years to treat numerous ailments. Today, it’s used to treat glaucoma, AIDS, Crohn’s, epilepsy, asthma, arthritis, pain, nausea and other conditions.
While the focus in Georgia was on treating children with epilepsy with one compound from the cannabis plant, whole plant therapeutics was discouraged and even demonized by some lawmakers. Patients and doctors should make decisions about what medical treatments are best for patients.
As director of Georgia CARE Project (Campaign for Access, Reform & Education), I offer legislators a more comprehensive approach to cannabis therapeutics. For Georgia law to provide effective protection for seriously ill people who engage in the medical use of cannabis, state law must:
• Define “legitimate medical use” of cannabis by requiring a person who seeks legal protection to have a medical condition that is sufficiently serious or debilitating, and have the approval of his or her medical practitioner.
• Avoid provisions that would require patients, physicians or government employees to violate federal law for patients to legally use medical cannabis.
• Provide at least one of the following means of obtaining cannabis, and preferably all three: Permit patients to cultivate their own cannabis; permit caregivers to cultivate cannabis on behalf of patients; and authorize nongovernmental organizations to cultivate and distribute cannabis to patients and their primary caregivers.
• Implement a series of sensible restrictions, such as prohibiting patients and providers from possessing large quantities of cannabis, and prohibiting driving while under the influence of cannabis, and so forth.
Moving forward, we should focus on better legislation similar to Senate Bill 432 offered by Sen. Curt Thompson. I commend the efforts of state officials and the public for engaging in this important medical and legal debate.
Perhaps 2015 will be the year that compassion prevails over politics in Georgia.
James Bell is executive director of Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform & Education — Georgia CARE.
Medicinal marijuana needs more research
By Sue Rusche
Americans are confused about medical marijuana.
On the one hand, research shows some of marijuana’s components may become useful medicines. Two, Marinol and Cesamet, already are. Both are synthetic versions of THC, marijuana’s psychoactive component. Doctors prescribe them to reduce chemotherapy-related nausea and AIDS wasting in patients for whom when nothing else works.
Two more, Sativex and Epidiolex, are undergoing U.S. clinical trials. Sativex is equal parts THC and cannabidiol. If approved by the Food and Drug Administration, doctors will prescribe it to treat advanced cancer pain, muscle spasticity, and neuropathic pain caused by multiple sclerosis. Epidiolex is purified cannabidiol that contains no THC. It is just beginning clinical trials here to treat seizures caused by Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes.
Twenty states have legalized marijuana for medical use. Like the patent medicine makers of the 19th century, entrepreneurs are selling a number of marijuana products as medicines. Not one has been tested for safety or efficacy. Not one has been approved by the FDA. Not one can be prescribed by doctors. But that hasn’t stopped the “green rush” from cashing in on a variety of “medicines.”
Marijuana strains are sold to patients by “budtenders,” the person at a medical marijuana dispensary or clinic who tends to the patients’ needs. That person works with you and helps you decide what will be the ideal medicine for you to purchase and in what quantity. Budtenders are not required to be trained in medicine or pharmacology.
Marijuana edibles are marijuana-infused food products such as chocolate chip cookies, fudges, chocolate bars, caramels, gummy bears, ice cream bars, cakes and so on. Emergency rooms are treating Colorado toddlers and preschoolers who ate edibles and overdosed. A Wyoming college student who ate one of these cookies died of a combination of marijuana intoxication and a fall from his Colorado hotel balcony.
Marijuana concentrates leach THC out of plant material with solvents. The waxy substance that results is 75 to 100 percent THC and can be vaporized. Similar to e-cigarettes, e-joints enable patients to inhale the THC vapors.
One of the most worrisome aspects of medical marijuana is contamination. Independent, certified labs routinely find that marijuana contains mildew, mold, pesticides, and sometimes even E. coli and other pathogens. No state requires marijuana medicine-makers to test for contaminants. Colorado, for example, which legalized medical marijuana in 2000, won’t require such testing until later in 2014.
Advocates are lobbying many states this year to legalize a Colorado cannabidiol oil for children with epilepsy. Georgia rejected this path and chose to go down the research road to protect them. Thanks to the wisdom of Gov. Nathan Deal, the knowledge of state Rep. Sharon Cooper, and the passion of Rep. Allen Peake, Georgia will be the first state to provide safe, legal, pharmaceutical cannabidiol to these children.
Sue Rusche is president and CEO of National Families in Action.