Dear Decaturish – Decriminalizing marijuana is the next important step for GeorgiaSource: Wikimedia commons
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For the past two legislative sessions Georgia lawmakers have taken a hard look at medical marijuana and, unfortunately, failed to take any action to alleviate the suffering of thousands of Georgians that could undoubtedly benefit from this plant and its extracts. It’s not that they haven’t tried. In fact Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) has tried twice now to offer a small sliver of hope to a very small minority of sick Georgians, children with severe seizure disorders, and both times now Gov. Nathan Deal has managed to turn it into political mulch.
In the 2014 legislative session House Bill 885, also known as the Haleigh’s Hope Act, passed quickly through the House and was all but guaranteed to pass the Senate, but then tragedy struck in the form of politics and 885 vanished as quickly as it had appeared. This year Gov. Deal got in front of Rep. Peake yet again by refusing to consider in-state cultivation of the low-THC, high-CBD strains the bill would have called for and forced a “compromise” on the issue. In essence Peake and Deal agreed to a bill that would allow parents to smuggle marijuana oil into the state and, as long as they don’t end up in jail along the way, they would be safe from prosecution once they made it back to Georgia.
Though many parents, patients and activists are (rightfully) upset over the fact that Mr. Peak spent a month promising them in-state cultivation then backing away from the table before the first course was even served, it is important to take note of what our leaders are telling us here. Despite the fact that 23 states and the District of Columbia have seen fit to allow their citizens to consume one of the oldest, safest medicines on the planet, Georgia lawmakers are nowhere near granting suffering Georgians the relief they really need in the form of whole-plant medicine. But what they are apparently willing to entertain is the notion of not arresting patients, as evidenced by the “compromise” reached between the Governor and Mr. Peake.
So the next big step for Georgia is to follow the lead of states like Mississippi, North Carolina and Maryland that have removed criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana by way of decriminalizing it. Decriminalization would instantly put a stop to the thousands of arrests made every year in Georgia for simple possession, and it would allow lawmakers to avoid, at least temporarily, the larger gorilla in the room – full legalization.
As a former Georgia police officer I can attest to the fact that arresting otherwise-law abiding citizens simply for possessing marijuana is one of the most counter-intuitive time wasters in the business. We have been prosecuting a war on drugs for 45 years and it cannot be described as anything other than an absolute and complete policy failure by any reasonable standard.
While we are happy for the patients that will hopefully one day benefit from this very narrow legislation, we remain hopeful that our legislators will soon hear the unified voice that is becoming louder and louder behind us. And as more and more sick Georgians suffer, and our mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and children languish in jail, that voice will continue to grow. Until Georgia makes a REAL decision about medical marijuana we must do what we can to help the caged and the suffering, and we must do it now. It is time to decriminalize marijuana in Georgia and remove the threat of criminal prosecution so that our patients, and our families, can begin to heal.
Advisory Board Member