Medical marijuana bill approved in House

by Bradley Hartsell


HB 885, “Haleigh’s Hope,” was named after Haleigh Cox (pictured above with Represenatative Allen Peake), who was diagnosed with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and is still in the hospital. 

On Monday, Georgia state legislators approved the bill brought by State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, that would allow those suffering from severe seizures and seizure-related disorders to take a form of medical marijuana. 

The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Last week, the passing of the bill appeared doubtful, as there is no local source for marijuana in the state because of both federal and state law restrictions. Georgia CARE Project’s James Bell, an activist for marijuana reform laws, declared Peake’s bill “dead.” Peake rewrote the bill last week to address the issue of cultivation, and now with the bill passing easily, Bell is feeling relief, but is quick to point out remaining issues.

“We certainly are excited the issue was debated and are pleased with response from the House,” Bell said. “It remains to be seen how effective the law will be. We still need to expand the law and make it less cumbersome. I have mixed feelings about it.”

Bell is in favor of comprehensive use of cannabis, like with the marijuana laws recently passed in Colorado. He would like to see as many outlets as possible and expand marijuana use beyond the treatment of seizures. Bell feels with the bill passing the House, the door to future legislation may become less restrictive.

“I expect by next session a more comprehensive bill will be introduced,” Bell said. “Top filers of the bill seem to be open to a broader piece of legislation. Mr. Peake wanted to focus on restrictions in order to get the bill passed.”

Peake initially introduced the bill in response to meeting a constituent’s 4-year-old daughter, Haleigh Cox, who suffers from severe seizures as a result of Lennox-Gestaut syndrome. Peake accelerated the bill in order to help children like Cox.

One of those children is Newnan’s Matthew McKoy. McKoy is 5 years old and has optic pathway glioma, as well as a tumor on his spinal cord. The issues McKoy faces render him vulnerable to dangerous seizure episodes. His mother, Katie McKoy, calls her son “medically fragile” and says FDA-approved drugs are not viable long term.

“The seizure medications on the market today are known to cause damage, such as kidney and liver,” McKoy said. “Cannabis oil has very minimal side effects, and has been shown to shrink tumors, especially the kind Matthew has.”

Approved medications are not a long-term option for many families like the McKoys, nor is moving to Colorado. Hopefully, options will broaden soon in Georgia.

“We’re thrilled that it passed but we have a very long battle ahead of us,” said McKoy, who applauded lawmakers, as did Bell, for educating themselves on new matters.

“Once you learn the facts and see the data, it’s pretty much a no-brainer,” she added.

Bell, like McKoy, is thinking of the children who could be immediately impacted in their quality of life, as well as children yet to come.

“It’s not a selfish thing,” Bell said. “People are looking to the future to be pioneers. It’s a long-term vision these parents have.

“I’m proud of Allen Peake, I’m proud of the parents who stood up there and were heard. They could have run off to Colorado but they chose to stay here and fight,” he added.

Among the biggest debates, according to the Associated Press, was a plan to let people suffering from the side effects of cancer treatment, glaucoma and some seizure disorders to take products derived from cannabis oil in the hope it will ease their symptoms.

The cannabis could be given to patients orally, as a liquid or pill, or administered by injections. Peake said the cannabis could bring relief for children who suffer from hundreds of seizures daily. He said cannabis oil is low in THC, the active ingredient that produces the marijuana high.

"It is not a slippery slope toward legalization of cannabis for recreational use," Peake said. "I stand firmly against that direction and will fight it with all my energy."

Several politicians acknowledged they were initially reluctant to change statewide drug policy during an election year, but Peake urged them not to delay by setting up study committees or holding the bill until next year.

"We cannot move fast enough," he said.

Janea Cox hugged her daughter, 4-year-old Haleigh, during the vote, according to the Associated Press. Haleigh has up to 100 seizures daily, and her mother and other parents have lobbied for the legislation.

“We are all so overwhelmed right now," Cox said, crying. "We had so much support in there I can't imagine it not passing. It's crazy to be a part of history. I think we're all in shock right now.”

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