AJC Editorial “Treat Weed Like Wine” by James Bell

Should marijuana be legalized?

National polls show 58 percent now support legalizing and 80 percent indicate support for medicinal marijuana.

This shift in attitude toward cannabis comes after twenty states and the District of Columbia enacted medical marijuana laws and Colorado and Washington voted to legalize.

But what about Georgia? Will Georgia follow suit and reform its harsh laws? Georgia activists say yes, but it will take considerable work to educate the legislature and motivate the public to get more involved. One thing is certain, the movement to reform these laws in Georgia is growing. The legislature will address this issue at some point.

The General Assembly did address the medical marijuana issue in the past. In 1980 Georgia was one of the first states to pass a medical marijuana research act. The law allowed the use of marijuana for cancer therapy and glaucoma. But smoking the federal government’s harsh “ditch weed” was intolerable for many and the pharmaceutical form of THC was more palatable. The program is no longer active. Georgia has lost more than 30 years of medical research and we could have been a pioneer in cannabis therapeutics.

A major factor in the increase in public support for cannabis was the documentary “Weed” by the renowned surgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta. This ground breaking exposé opened the eyes and hearts of millions of viewers to the miracle medicine called cannabis.

On the criminal justice front Georgia has enacted certain law reform measures in an attempt to reduce the number of non-violent offenders in the prison system but has ignored the issue of marijuana laws reform.

Georgia has some of the most Draconian marijuana laws in the nation with penalties up to ten year in prison for more than one ounce. With nearly 30,000 arrests each year the harm done to our citizens by these laws far exceed any real or perceived harm cause by marijuana.

It’s time Georgia treats marijuana more like wine than plutonium. Not only is marijuana prohibition a civil rights issue, it’s also a money issue – tax dollars. The money we spend on arrest, prosecution and incarceration for a commodity that is known to be far safer than alcohol and tobacco, is money that could be redirected to prevent and enforce real crimes against people.

As an activist I am encouraged by the support I am seeing from the public and even legislators are educating themselves about the topic and are seeking alternative policies.

We can kick start the process by having compassion for the seriously ill and allow them access to a relatively safe medicine that has proven to offer relief from suffering. With the legal states engaged in cannabis therapeutics and research, we have just begun to understand what this plant has to offer.

We have drafted legislation and are seeking support. We encourage the citizens to contact their legislator and begin a dialog on this issue.

With marijuana, Georgia should apply its motto – “Wisdom – Justice – Moderation”.

Georgia’s Plan to Legalize Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Plan Crafted For Georgia – Activists Offer Up Comprehensive Plan

Atlanta GA: Today, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is expected to sign legislation making Illinois the 20th state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana. Meanwhile, Georgia activists say they want Georgia to be the next state to consider reform legislation and have published a report on how to achieve their goals.

James Bell, director for Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform & Education (Georgia C.A.R.E.), said Georgia is ready to consider historic legislation allowing for medical marijuana.

In a seven page report (A Guide to Enacting Medical Marijuana in Georgia)Georgia CARE outlines the steps Georgia must take to remove criminal penalties, allow doctors to recommend therapeutic use and provide for a legal and safe source of medical marijuana.

“We believe the people of Georgia will support our efforts to allow patients with serious medical conditions to use marijuana under doctor’s supervision. We’re ready to take our plan to state lawmakers”, Bell said. “In 1980 Georgia was one of the first states in the nation to pass a compassionate medical marijuana law. We believe Georgia lawmakers are no less compassionate today. We should not treat patients like criminals.”

From the report: Four key principles for effective Georgia medical marijuana laws

  1. Define what is a legitimate medical use of marijuana by requiring a person who seeks legal protection to (a) have a medical condition that is sufficiently serious or debilitating, and (b) have the approval of his or her medical practitioner;
  2. Avoid provisions that would require physicians or government employees to violate federal law in order for patients to legally use medical marijuana;
  3. Provide at least one of the following means of obtaining marijuana, preferably all three: (a) permit patients to cultivate their own marijuana; (b) permit primary caregivers to cultivate marijuana on behalf of patients; and (c) authorize nongovernmental organizations to cultivate and distribute marijuana to patients and their primary caregivers.
  4. Implement a series of sensible restrictions, such as prohibiting patients and providers from possessing large quantities of marijuana, prohibiting driving while under the influence of marijuana, and so forth.

Georgia CARE is working with a diverse coalition of groups and individuals dedicated to educating the public, media and legislators concerning the medical marijuana issue.

Georgia CARE is seeking legislative sponsorship for the 2014 legislative session and is planning a symposium on Cannabis Therapeutics at EmoryUniversity in January 2014.