3. Legislative Process

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We debated the issue and thought we had resolved it:

HB 885 amends Article 5 of Chapter 34 of Title 43 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA). The “Medical Marijuana Necessities Act” was a bill passed in Georgia in 1981 by governor George Busbee that actually legalized research trial for medical cannabis. In 2010 the law was amended and revived as the “Control Therapeutic Substance Act.” HB 885 is a renewed version of this bill, now renamed Haleigh’s Hope Act. The new bill adds seizures disorders to the list of potential recipients; it also erases the section labeling previous cannabis research as limited, expensive, and time consuming, now labeling as an optimistic drug with proven results. It also grants research capabilities to research centers instead of physicians; and it also adds several requirements for a more comprehensive implementation methodology.

The bill was assigned to the Health and Human Services Committee; republican representative Sharon Cooper was named chairman. The was not assigned to a sub-committee.The committee held hearings on seven separate dates. HB 885 was discussed on two of them. The committee hearing started with the testimony of the sponsor, representative Allen Peake, about meeting the families of children who would benefit from medical cannabis, followed by a short video documentary laying out the scientific research behind it and its success in other states. It was followed by the testimony of Paige Figi, a mother of a young girl who experienced extremely beneficial affects in treating her seizure disorder, sprouting a massive movement in her state of Colorado and several other states.

A Colorado medical cannabis manufacturer also testified addressing misconceptions about the drug not being tested and heavily researched. Doctors from the Medical Association of Georgia also explained their approval for the drug. Several specialists from the Children’s hospital of Atlanta, Northwest GA Healthcare, the Academy of Pediatricians Association, as well as the Georgia Sheriff’s Association, the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, and Atlanta’s tea Party.

Support against the bill came from Sue Rusche, from National Families in Action, who showcased a video detailing how some medical cannabis dispensaries in Colorado encouraged recreational cannabis by selling paraphernalia. A testimony was also given by a parent warning of  the dangers of using insufficiently tested drugs on children, though her case was not related to medical marijuana. Concerns were also raised by someone from Georgia Drug and Narcotics Agency explaining how since cultivation was not addressed in the bill, getting it from another state would be a major challenge not only from the states traveling through, but also from the federal government.

On the second hearing, the committee voted unanimously in favor of the bill. Due to activism and criticism from several legislators, the public, and advocacy groups, the bill was revised in order to give medical research centers the ability to cultivate cannabis. The only major lobbying came from the Georgia C.A.R.E. Project and Peachtree NORML. The bill moved on to the House of Representative’s floor where testimonies were given by families of the children that would benefit from this drug. It passed the House on March 6, 2014 with 171 yays, and 4 nays, moving to the Senate.

At the beginning of the legislative session Senator Renee Unterman introduced a bill to the Senate that would mandate private insurance companies to cover autism treatment SB 397. The bill passed the senate committee, as well as the senate floor, however it sat inactive when it passed over to the House. Senator Unterman was also the chairman for the Senate’s Health and Human Services committee where HB 885 was placed. Allegations were made that Senator Unterman was unwilling to move HB 885 forward until the House acknowledged her own bill.

When asked, Unterman claimed multiple representatives came to her saying they only voted for the bill for compassion for the families, but really have little knowledge of its full content; however in another comment she stated that it was all part of the political game. In a surprisingly turn of events, HB 885 was also amended to mandate private insurance companies to cover autism treatment. Knowing her bill wasn’t going anywhere in the House, Unterman basically took the language from the dead SB 397 and added it to HB 885 in a loophole strategy since the latter was known to have a lot more support and media attention. HB 885, Haleigh’s Hope Act, was then renamed “Kids Care Act”. The bill passed on the Senate’s floor unanimously with 54Yays and 0 Nays March 20, 2014.

However, because Hb 885 was drastically changed to incorporate SB 397 it had to be sent back to the House to get approved. SB 397 was known to have extremely minimal support in the House, and so representatives refused to vote on HB 885 with SB 397 attached to it. With that being the last day of session March 21, 2014, in a last minute attempt Representative Peake attached HB 885 to SB 291, a bill that would create a new agency for adult aging services. SB 291 had been passed by the Senate and House, but when it was sent back to Senate with HB 885 attached to it, they refused to pass it since it didn’t have the desired autism language of SB 397.

Despite HB 885 having passed both House and senate with unanimous support in different ways, the bill officially died on the last day of session. Governor Deal spoke about the issue declaring he is going to try to find some executive power to allow the families affected to obtain medical cannabis. However, the status of such statement remains unknown or released to the public.

 

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