ATLANTA — After more than four hours of haggling and sometimes rancorous debate, Georgia’s powerful Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday passed its own version of a House bill that seeks to allow medical marijuana to be used for eight medical conditions, deleting only one diagnosis in a measure pushed by state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon.
His bill, which passed overwhelmingly in the House, would have allowed the use of cannabis oil for cancer, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Mitochondrial disease, Fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease and sickle cell anemia. The Senate’s committee deleted Fibromyalgia but left the rest.
The measure now goes to the full Senate.
Peake said he was disappointed that Fibromyalgia was taken out, but hopes this version of the bill will be signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal.
State Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford and chairwoman of Health and Human Services, had to warn the packed hearing room in the Capitol to keep quiet, and at one point threatened to have audience members who groaned aloud forcibly removed.
Dozens, perhaps scores, of proposed amendments were debated.
Unterman has said that Deal wants a medical marijuana bill. Several dozen states have such laws, about 12 of those for epilepsy only. The state Senate has passed a bill setting up a five-year study for people under 21 with epilepsy but that research has just begun.
Peake pleaded for the committee to pass his bill intact. The vote finally came after testimony by physicians and scientists from across the nation who were either for, or vehemently against, medical marijuana use. Some witnesses said the state would be wrong to pass any type of bill that could in theory open the door to Colorado-style legalization.
Katie McCoy, who said she has three children with listed conditions, citied studies in Israel and other countries that she said prove cannabis can help.
Much of the testimony was confusing. Physicians and committee members debated the percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, needed to be effective, citing often contradictory scientific studies.
The Senate committee substitute, like Peake’s, settled on a level of 5 percent THC. Unterman pledged to set up a state-controlled mechanism to control the percentage and to make sure no patient with any illness receives more than 20 ounces of cannabis oil.
Dr. Paul H. Earley, an Atlanta psychiatrist, said he had treated thousands of children but opposed the bill because it would “open the door to legal distribution of THC” and cause addiction problems.
“We’re going to go back a hundred years if we pass this legislation,” he said.
Some of the testimony from members of families with children suffering from the disorders was heart-wrenching.
Dr. Jay Smith, an emergency room physician at Gwinnett Medical Center who has moved his family of seven to Colorado, where medical marijuana can be obtained, said “I’m here to testify as a father and physician to say that cannabis oil works and is probably saving her life. She started treatment (in Colorado) July 3. She was effectively a zombie. Today I have my daughter back.”
Lindsey Crosby, father of a 26-year-old Macon woman, Katie Crosby, with Fibromyalgia, pleaded passionately for the committee to leave in Fibromyalgia.
His voice cracking, he said she suffers intense pain all the time.