Republican Rep. Allen Peake celebrates last year with families whose loved ones suffer seizures after the Georgia Senate passed his cannabis oil bill. Peake is now calling for a statewide vote on growing cannabis. (Associated Press file)

Georgia lawmakers: Let voters decide about growing medical marijuana

ATLANTA — Voters would decide whether to legalize the growth and distribution of marijuana in Georgia for medical use under a proposal introduced Thursday in the state House.

Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, spearheaded efforts that led to a 2015 state law allowing the use of cannabis oil to treat certain medical conditions. However, it’s still illegal to cultivate marijuana for producing that oil in Georgia. Patients have complained that getting it from other states can be expensive and risky.

About a dozen co-sponsors signed onto a new bill Peake introduced Thursday calling for a statewide vote on state-regulated growth. The Macon Telegraph reported the proposal stops short of laying out rules on where medical marijuana could be grown, who could grow it and how it could be sold. Peake said that would be spelled out in a later bill, but he believed a referendum should come first.

“It’s clear we’re going to have a hard time passing a cultivation bill for the next two years” in the Legislature, Peake said. “So why not put it in front of the voters, where every poll shows there’s clear evidence that voters support this?”

Critics including law enforcement officials and religious organizations have opposed loosening laws to allow for medical marijuana use, saying it could open the door for legalizing recreational pot in the state.

Gov. Nathan Deal signed the law allowing medical cannabis possession two years ago. But Deal has not supported legal marijuana cultivation, saying he thinks the industry could not be controlled.

Peake also wants to expand the types of illnesses for which Georgia allows medical cannabis use. A separate bill he filed would add six diagnoses: AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, intractable pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and Tourette’s syndrome.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who leads the Senate, said Republicans in that chamber may be willing to support expanding the list of conditions if lawmakers reduce the level of the chemical that causes a high, called tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, allowed in the cannabis oil.

Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, has filed a bill that would reduce the legal level of THC in cannabis oil from 5 percent to 3 percent.

Information from: The Macon Telegraph