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Federal marijuana bill gives hope to GA families
Cannabis-Oil Fazi-1
Families in the gallery supporting House Bill 1 react, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015, in Atlanta, after the Georgia House passed the bill to legalize cannabis oil for the treatment of nine major health problems. (AP)

Mike Hopkins had given up on bringing his family back from Colorado to Covington this year, but a new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate Tuesday would effectively legalize cannabis oil on a federal level, removing a major barrier to getting his daughter, Michala, the treatment she needs in Georgia.

“Right now, nothing in the state House…is going to get us home legally, so some action by the federal government would be most welcome,” said Hopkins, who represents one of at least 17 Georgia families that have moved to Colorado to access cannabis oil.

“Open that door, and we would be home,” said Hopkins, who has already begun contacting Georgia’s representatives in Washington, including Senators Johnny Isaakson and David Purdue. “I’m trying to contact everybody.”

Michala, 17, suffers from debilitating seizures, but has seen a marked improvement since moving to Boulder with her mother and sister to begin cannabis oil treatment. Her seizures went from 365 over the two month period preceding treatment, to just 53 in the two months since, including two full days without seizing once, her father said.

Hopkins continues to fly back and forth between Colorado and Georgia, where he is the executive director of the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority.

If the CARERS Act passes in its current form, it would give legs to legislation being debated in the Georgia General Assembly that would legalize possession of cannabis oil on a state level. House Bill 1, authored by Representative Allen Peake, was gutted of its in-state growing component at the start of the legislative session, leaving individuals who smuggle it in from other states vulnerable to federal prosecution.

The CARERS Act, sponsored by Senators Rand Paul (R), Cory Booker (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D), would amend the Controlled Substances Act to allow states to determine their own medical marijuana policies without federal interference. Under the proposed legislation, marijuana oil that is high in cannabidoil (CBD) and low in THC would be legal.

The bill would also reclassify marijuana as a schedule II drug, allow banks and credit unions to offer financial services to marijuana dispensaries, and enable Department of Veteran Affairs doctors to prescribe marijuana.

Michael Collins, policy manager for the Washington-based Drug Policy Alliance, said the CARERS Act would “operationalize dormant programs” similar to Georgia’s HB1, which legalize cannabis oil but provide no mechanisms for access.

“The intent of the legislation is to eliminate the need for these families to move in the first place, and the whole concept of what are being called ‘marijuana refugees’,” said Collins.

The bill would also remove some obstacles to medical studies by mandating approval of three additional licenses to grow marijuana for research purposes, producing a greater body of research on which to base decisions about marijuana legislation. Currently the University of Mississippi holds the only license.

“Right now, it’s easier to get [approval] to study cocaine than marijuana,” Collins said.

For his part, Hopkins expressed hope that action at the federal level would push state lawmakers to follow suit.

“They are playing with people’s lives here,” Hopkins said of Georgia lawmakers. HB1 would force him to break the law by smuggling his daughter’s medicine over state lines, while SB185 would put an age limit on cannabis oil treatment, just before Michala turns 18.

“There’s too much political gamesmanship going on in Georgia,” said Hopkins. “They’re missing the point.”

James Bell, director of the Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform and Education (CARE), said the CARERS Act could “radically change the way states deal with the issue” of medical marijuana.

“This bipartisan support is very encouraging to see,” said Bell. “If the feds [reschedule marijuana], it would certainly free us up [at the state level]…We need more cultivation; we need more research.”