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Medical cannabis lacks votes
Glynn County's delegates to the Georgia General Assembly have not added their signatures or support to a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in pill form in Georgia.

Rep. Alex Atwood, R-St. Simons Island, says he doesn't have enough information to even make a decision at this time. Rep. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, and Sen. William Ligon, R-St. Simons Island, are opposed to it.

But more than 80 other state legislators have signed a bill sponsored by Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, including Republican leaders.

"I'm an unlikely champion for this cause," said Peake, author of House Bill 885, which allows for the legal use of medicinal marijuana for treatment of seizure disorders.

"Once people realize it's not a 6-year-old smoking a joint, most folks realize this is the compassionate thing to do."

Peake is a businessman from Macon who attended the evangelical Dallas Theological Seminary. He said he decided to file the legislation after meeting 4-year-old Haleigh Cox, a Georgia resident currently hospitalized for a severe seizure disorder.

Peake's bill, introduced in January, is backed by the Medical Association of Georgia, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Northwest Georgia Healthcare, Academy of Pediatricians Association and the Georgia Sheriff's Association.

The bill would revive a long-dormant research program allowing academic institutions to distribute the medical cannabis and would be "limited in scope, tightly restricted, well regulated and managed by doctors," Peake said, allowing only for its use in pill form.

Atwood said he met with Peake and the parent of a child suffering from acute seizures to discuss the issue, but he said he has not been provided enough research to support the legislation.

Chapman said he would prefer to hear from all sides of the issue before he makes a final decision, though currently he is "inclined to vote against the bill."

Among critics' biggest concerns is that allowing medical marijuana even under a narrow list of circumstance would eventually open the door to widespread use.

Ligon opposes the bill based on that concern.

"I am not aware of any clinical study that suggests the use of marijuana for medical purposes," Ligon said. "Furthermore, I understand that the medical community in Georgia has not sought the use of marijuana for treatment of patients. If there are legitimate medical uses, then the drug should be subject to the same trials as any other drug approved for use by the FDA. I am concerned that this is the first step towards the legalization of marijuana for recreational use."

Peake, however, has been adamant that will not be the case.

"I am as concerned as anyone that we would get to a slippery slope of a broader scope of marijuana use in the state," Peake said. "I promise you, I will fight that with every bit of energy in me."

Gov. Nathan Deal has declined to take a position, but noted the "strong case" being presented by some of the families with very serious situations involving their children.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana by people with specific medical conditions.

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