The issue of medical marijuana will be a talking point for our community in this year’s election for the state senate in District 52. Democrat Evan Ross, challenger to Republican incumbent Chuck Hufstetler, is a strong proponent of medical marijuana in Georgia. This is a topic that Ross and Hufstetler will disagree on.
Hufstetler was elected to the Senate District 52 seat in November 2012. Since his election there have been several medical marijuana bills at the state level, headed by Republican representative Allen Peake of House District 141. Those bills culminated in the Haleigh’s Hope Act being signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal in 2015 and paved the way for Georgia’s citizens to have access to low THC cannabis oil for select conditions. Hufstetler voted “Yes” in the 2014-2015 legislative session on HB 885 after continuing research into medical marijuana, but in the 2015-2016 legislative session, he was one of six senators to vote “No” on HB1 Haleigh’s Hope Act. In the 2017-2018 session, he was the only senator to not vote on HB 65, addressing the low THC patient registry. In contrast Republican state representative for House District 13 Katie Dempsey has consistently voted “Yes” on every medical marijuana bill to pass through the house.
Obviously, Evan Ross does not have a voting record for me to summarize, but he lists access to medical marijuana as one of his top priorities as a state senator. For him it’s personal. Ross wrote on his website, “my four-year-old son has epilepsy. Every morning before I wake the children, I say a short prayer, asking that he has survived the night.” The fear families with children who suffer from seizure disorders face was the catalyst for medical marijuana legislation. Rep. Allen Peake was moved to write Haleigh’s Hope Act by stories of Georgians who have been forced to decide between relocating to states where there is access to medical marijuana or risking legal repercussions by smuggling medicine back to Georgia to treat their children’s epilepsy.
According to the Georgia Department of Public Health FAQ webpage regarding low THC oil, “The new law does not address how low THC oil is made, purchased or shipped. The law only creates a procedure to ensure qualified persons will be protected from prosecution for having it in their possession. The Georgia Department of Public Health does not prescribe or dispense low THC oil.” With no legal procedure for gaining access to low THC oil, families are still stuck with large doses of risk.
Some may associate marijuana legislation with liberals, but our medical marijuana legislation was written and signed into law by Republicans. Of the six sponsors of Haleigh’s Hope Act, one was a Democrat. I find that to be significant. Our lawmakers know this is a bipartisan issue. They may not advertise it, but clearly this is a topic both parties are invested in. However, I wonder if their constituents know this is a bipartisan issue. Are we all too afraid to speak honestly and openly about this topic?
Haleigh’s Hope Act allows for low THC cannabis oil to be utilized for cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, mitochondrial disease, Parkinson’s disease, sickle cell disease and seizure disorders. House Bill 764, introduced in this year’s legislative session, hopes to add PTSD to this list.
The efficacy of medical marijuana in treating these conditions is established. Our lawmakers laid a foundation but failed to pass anything that provides for an in-state supply of this medicine. For Evan Ross’s family and others like them, this is an issue that cannot wait. In House District 141 Rep. Allen Peake is not running for reelection so he can focus on advocating for this issue.
Seizure disorders, ALS and cancer don’t discriminate based on political affiliations. Our healthcare system is a partisan issue, but treatments are not, and should not be. Chemotherapy is not considered a partisan issue and neither should medical marijuana. Securing access for this medicine is urgent, and we need to speak up about it and encourage our representatives and senators to continue working on this issue.
Many of us have core issues that will guide our votes. Examples of core issues are abortion, climate change, taxes, education and gun control. Often these become a partisan issue and sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes you may find a candidate from the other party who is more aligned to your views on that core issue, and you may switch parties during an election cycle because that core issue is so important to you. This election cycle we are thinking about what is best for our communities and our state. Please consider adding marijuana to your list of core issues you follow when thinking about your vote. President Donald Trump just announced that he would consider backing a federal bill that would provide protections for states that have legalized marijuana, breaking from previous comments he has made, and from the policy articulated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. We all need to evaluate the issues that are important to us and know it’s ok to change our views. It takes courage and it shows critical thinking.
I want you to talk about this at work, home and with your friends. Whatever you believe, let’s at least have an open and frank conversation, and look at who you’re voting for and make sure their views on marijuana match your own this November. Finally, no matter what, please vote.
Jesse Burnette is a resident of Rome.