Mike Hopkins had hoped a new, limited medical marijuana bill in Georgia would allow him to bring his family back from Colorado, where his 17-year-old daughter, Michala, is being successfully treated for seizures and pain with cannabis oil.
But a last minute deal between Governor Nathan Deal and the bill’s sponsor, Macon. Rep. Allen Peake, has gutted the proposed law of key components just as the new legislative session opened this week.
“’Stunned’ would be a good word,” said Hopkins, describing his reaction when he and other affected families were informed of the changes late Friday. Hopkins was among about a hundred supporters of the bill who gathered at the Capitol Tuesday.
“Nobody is offering anything,” in the way of explanation, Hopkins said. “Today at the capitol I found no different answers but I did find a lot of people who were not happy with this.”
Peake had pushed for a two-part bill that would protect individuals from prosecution for illegally importing cannabis oil into Georgia in the short term, and eventually create a domestic regulatory infrastructure for the cultivation and processing of cannabis oil in state.
However, Deal apparently threatened to veto the bill over its growing component.
"It's not as far as I would like to go," Peake said of the pared down bill. "At the end of the day, he's the governor and he has the ability to sign or not sign, and he felt it needed more study."
Peake was confident the growing portion of the bill was only "delayed" until an agreeable model had been worked out.
The amended bill would offer immunity from prosecution in Georgia, but transporting any marijuana products over state lines is illegal, a risk Hopkins said he isn't willing to take.
Hopkins said his daughter used to experience six to 10 “hard seizures” a day, some lasting up to 45 minutes at which point she was given risky emergency medicines. Since she began cannabis oil treatment, her seizures average less than three a day and last for only three or four minutes. Her pain also appears to have eased, and her cognitive and interactive capabilities improved.
“I’d walk to Colorado to get this done,” said Hopkins, who travels between Colorado and Georgia, where he continues to serve as the executive director of the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority.
Aaron Brooks of the Newton Conservative Liberty Alliance was also at the Capitol to witness the wave of disappointment when news of the changes went public.
“It was very, very heartbreaking to see what some of these families are having to go through,” he said, adding that the weakened bill is “basically putting a band aid on a gushing wound.”
Brooks said most of the supporters he spoke with blamed the governor rather than Peake, and many were still hopeful the bill would be sent to committee in its original form.
“There was a lot of attention brought to this and everybody seemed on board, but now there is a feeling of ‘politics as usual,’ and this is not an issue we can afford to have politics involved in,” Brooks said.
A recent poll by the Atlanta Journal Constitution found that 84 percent of Georgians support limited legalization of medical marijuana, while 49 percent of all respondents support legalizing recreational use among adults versus 48 percent who oppose it.
“They have pulled the wool over our eyes and pulled the rug out from under the citizens of Georgia that support medical marijuana,” sad James Bell, director of the Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform and Education, which supports a broader medical marijuana bill proposed by Senator Curt Thompson.
Bell characterized the agreement struck between Peake and the governor as a “back room deal” in a press release.
“The least we expected was a fair hearing on HB-1 during the session," he said. "Instead, Allen Peake gave into the demands of Gov. Deal and left the sick children to deal with their medical conditions on their own."
Peake said he doesn't feel he has misled anyone, and will continue to fight for the affected Georgia families even if it means driving the cannabis oil in from Colorado himself. He also said he was working on several temporary workarounds to legally import cannabis oil as a hemp product. The state may also ask the Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration for an exemption from the federal law banning the transport of marijuana products over state lines.