Few would disagree that physicians need every good tool in their medical toolbox to provide the best short and long-term health care to their patients — whether that tool is a new diagnostic test, a new antibiotic or a form of proven pain reliever.
During the 2015 legislative session, we will have the opportunity to provide our doctors with an additional tool, by legalizing marijuana for medical use. This summer, a joint study committee examined the options for legalizing marijuana, and already, three bipartisan bills have been filed.
I have authored SB 7, which would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana of up to two ounces for specific debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, Chrone’s Disease, Alzheimer’s and the chronic or debilitating condition that cause Cachexia (wasting syndrome), severe and chronic pain, severe nausea, and seizures/muscle spasms from epilepsy or multiple sclerosis.
SB 7 also includes a number of common-sense limitations and guardrails for dispensing the drug. Marijuana, like any other prescription drug, would be regulated.
To advance the conversation of marijuana use, I have also authored SR 6, a measure that would legalize, regulate and tax the sale of retail marijuana through licensed establishments. The tax collections would be constitutionally earmarked for education and transportation infrastructure. The resolution, if passed, would allow for a referendum in 2016 on amending the state Constitution to allow full legalization of marijuana, including recreational use.
If approved by voters, retail marijuana would co-exist with, not replace, medical marijuana. SR 6 includes lengthy requirements about licensing facilities, excise taxes and fees, and the creation of a state authority to regulate the sales.
Our discussions of marijuana in Georgia — in its many forms — have been largely limited to children’s health. While I adamantly support cannabis oil treatments for children with severe medical problems, I believe physicians should have the ability to care for all of their patients regardless of age, socio-economic status or where they live. SB 6 would provide doctors another tool for care and treatment, which we have learned varies depending on the nature of the illness.
While injectable cannabidiol is a wonderful treatment for certain illnesses, it is not a complete medical package. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, is also the therapeutic chemical that treats glaucoma, cancer, HIV/AIDS, wasting diseases and numerous other conditions. Many of these conditions either do not have other available treatments on the market, or the available treatments have significant side effects. Failure to pass legislation that permits THC-containing treatments and all necessary forms of delivery would leave patients out in the cold. It is critical we pass legislation that allows for all medically sound uses of medical marijuana.
SR 6 puts the discussion of retail marijuana regulation and taxation on the table. We have an opportunity in Georgia to regulate sales and make available another revenue stream without raising existing taxes. Several states have approved this option, and the revenue generated is so large, tax rebates to citizens are being considered.
Legalizing and regulating marijuana also allows us to reduce the strain on our public safety system and jails. In 2010, for example, marijuana possession arrests accounted for over 65 percent of drug arrests in Georgia. There were over 32,000 arrests for marijuana possession in that year alone. Legalizing and regulating marijuana would free up law enforcement to focus on more dangerous drugs and save taxpayers money by significantly reducing the number of people in our state’s prisons and jails.
Georgians will be hearing a great deal about these issues in the coming months, and citizens deserve a full exploration and debate by their elected officials. The legislation I have authored is in no way meant to supplant other legislation; it is meant to augment the discussion. I am looking forward to working with my colleagues to advance the discussion of marijuana use and regulation and finding the best possible solution for Georgians.