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Georgia group pushing for medical marijuana expansion
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ATLANTA (AP) — A new organization wants Georgia lawmakers to allow marijuana to be grown and harvested under close monitoring to treat certain diseases.

The effort comes less than a year after lawmakers approved a medical cannabis registry in Georgia. The group, Georgians for Freedom in Health Care, plans a formal launch at the Capitol on Tuesday morning.

Under Georgia's new law, people with certain medical conditions and a doctor's approval can register with the state for permission to possess cannabis oil that doesn't cause a "high." But the oil still can't be legally produced in Georgia; meaning patients must have it shipped or travel to a state where that's permitted.

Reaching that compromise took years of lobbying, news conferences and other events focused on young children with seizure disorders. Conservative lawmakers and law enforcement in Georgia have spoken against such a model in the past.

Shannon Cloud and her husband, Blaine, began work on the issue in late 2013. They plan to continue with the new organization. The couple's 10-year-old daughter, Alaina, has a form of epilepsy that causes seizures.

"We're well aware it's going to be a battle," Cloud said.

Alaina is enrolled in a clinical trial for cannabis oil and still takes five federally approved medications each day, which can take away her appetite, Shannon Cloud said. Expanding state law to allow in-state production would give more patients access, without the expense and risk they face now, Cloud said.

A commission of lawmakers, law enforcement officials, doctors and researchers began meeting in June to discuss the state's medical marijuana policy. State Rep. Allen Peake, who chairs the group and sponsored last year's medical marijuana bill, said members will make recommendations to Gov. Nathan Deal by the end of the year.

Peake, who is not involved with the new group, said the commission's discussion so far suggests two models for in-state production. Companies could apply for state licenses to grow plants, manufacture oil and distribute it; or the state can step in to handle the final step of distributing oil to qualified patients.

Either system would be closely regulated and give patients easier access than the current law allows, he said. But he called getting legislative approval "a huge challenge" in 2016.

"I think there's still a large learning curve for the medical community, law enforcement, for my colleagues to realize that we're not going down the path to Colorado," he said. "We're only looking for a solution for truly hurting citizens."

The commission's next meeting Wednesday focuses on the medical community. Since June, 193 physicians and 261 patients or caregivers signed up for the state's medical cannabis registry, according to the Department of Public Health.