Legislators support Deal’s plan on med marijuana
by Sarah Fay Campbell
Legislation that would have allowed for limited medical use of an oil derived from marijuana failed on the last day of the Georgia General Assembly session.
But Thursday, Gov. Nathan Deal announced he was taking action to help bring the crucial treatment to Georgia children suffering from seizure disorders.
Deal said Thursday that he has been in consultation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about how the state can have legal clinical trials with cannabis oil products at Georgia Regents University in Augusta.
Oil made from cannabidiol, one of the many active components in marijuana, has shown great promise in treating children with various disorders, such as Dravet Syndrome, which can cause multiple seizures a day.
In Colorado, where marijuana is legal for both medicinal and recreational purposes, growers have developed a strain that is high in cannabidiol (CBD), but low in THC, the main psychoactive component in marijuana that creates a “high.”
“So far we have identified two tracks worthy of pursuit,” Deal said. “Our most promising solution involves pairing GRU with a private pharmaceutical company that has developed a purified liquid cannabinoid currently in the FDA testing phase. The product contains no THC, which is the component in marijuana that intoxicates a user. The university would create a well-designed trial for children with epileptic disorders, and in order to serve as many children as we can, we would like to pursue a statewide investigational new drug program through a multicenter study that would allow GRU to partner with other research facilities across the state. We have talked with the pharmaceutical company to gauge interest, and the company is willing to continue those initial talks.”
Deal said the state may also pursue a second clinical trial at GRU that would use "cannabidiol oil obtained from cannabis product grown by the National Institute on Drug Abuse at its farm located at the University of Mississippi. This road would perhaps take more time because it would require GRU to work through an approval process with NIDA and the FDA.”
Five-year-old Cowetan Matthew McKoy has optic pathway glioma and a tumor on his spinal cord. Matthew is medically fragile, and his condition makes him vulnerable to dangerous seizures. Approved seizure drugs are not viable, long-term solutions, according to his mother, Katie.
“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.”
Some families have moved to Colorado to get treatment for their children, but that is not an option for the McKoys.
“We are very appreciative of all the effort and hard work [that the governor has put in],” McKoy said on Thursday. “I am thankful that he is recognizing that this is an effective treatment for our kids.”
“This is a start,” McKoy added. “Nothing is going to happen overnight. I look forward to seeing what comes to fruition as the details unfold.”
“This is a positive step for those dealing with debilitating seizures, particularly among children,” said State Senator Mike Crane, R-Newnan. “I hope this gets the ball moving quickly for those who are desperately in need of relief.”
Crane thinks there needs to be future action by the legislature. “I appreciate the governor not letting this linger until the next session,” he said.
State Representative Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, said she is not surprised to see Gov. Deal take action. Smith said she had talked to State Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, when House Bill 885 was in Cooper's committee.
“It stayed in her committee a long time. She said, ‘We’re trying to figure out how to address concerns about how to legally obtain the oil,’” Smith said.
Smith recalled how State Rep. Tom McCall, R-Elberton, spoke to the House about the issue when it was being debated. McCall’s son suffered from horrible seizures, and passed away when he was young. “He said – anything we can do to give relief to the parents whose children are suffering with this, we need to do it … we need to start something to be able to address it,” Smith said.
“And I think that is the sentiment of all the people I have talked to about this,” Smith added. “But you want to make sure you are doing something that follows the correct legal means available to us.”
Alabama’s legislature passed a bill legalizing cannabidiol oil this past session, as well as allocating $1 million for research at the University of Alabama - Birmingham.
“This is a debate that needs to take place nationally,” Smith said. “But it looks like our states are taking up this issue state by state. So maybe it will raise a profile to get the attention” of those on the national level.
“I’m glad to see that the governor has proposed what he has,” Smith said. “Even if it takes a while, we’ve taken that first step. So we’re on the road.”
During the session, several families whose children are suffering from seizure disorders came to the capitol.
“It would have broken your heart to have heard and seen the families up there,” Smith said.