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Allen Peake Talks About Medical Marijuana and More

The Monitor caught up with Georgia state representative Allen Peake, R-Macon, bright and early at 5:30 a.m. on March 26, 2015 as Peake was driving up to Atlanta for a television interview about one of the most talked-about pieces of legislation coming out of Atlanta this year, H.B. 1, Haleigh’s Hope Act. The act will provide for state-law-legal use in Georgia of low-THC cannabinoid oil, an extract of marijuana. Governor Nathan Deal is expected to sign the bill quickly.

Monitor: Congratulations on getting the 160-1 victory in the House yesterday accepting the Senate’s amendment the day before that largely endorsed your bill by a 48-6 vote. Low-THC CBD oil will now become legal in Georgia for eight medical uses. How does it feel for you as the primary steward of this legislation?

Peake: It was a very emotional day yesterday, a culmination of fifteen months of work. I couldn’t be prouder of my colleagues for sticking with me. More importantly, I’m proud of these families who worked so hard, lobbied so tirelessly, for their loved ones. They’re the real heroes in this effort.

Monitor: Why is the bill important?

Peake: Let me say that I know that this oil won’t heal these children with seizure disorders, but I’ve seen and heard about what it can do to improve the quality of their lives every single day. And that’s also true for cancer patients, MS patients, sickle-cell disease patients, and plenty more.

Monitor: The federal government still classifies marijuana as a Class I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, which means that marijuana is deemed federally to have no legitimate medical uses. Technically, H.B. 1 contradicts federal law. How do you justify that contradiction?

Peake: There’s a lot of laws in Georgia that contradict federal law. At the end of the day, this is a states’ rights issue. CBD clearly has medical value. It’s the sovereign right of our state to do something that we think is right for our citizens. And we’re not alone. Thirty-four other states have some type of provision for medical marijuana.

Monitor: The federal government has allowed the states some flexibility here. In other contexts, President Obama’s administration is being criticized for flaunting the plain language of statutes, as in immigration and healthcare. Why is this case different?

Peake: It’s been frustrating for me why the federal government hasn’t acted already to recognize the medical values of CBD. It’s going to have to happen. Congress needs to act by shifting marijuana out of Class I status. When a red state like Georgia is moving this way, you suspect that something’s not quite right with Washington’s approach. Immigration and healthcare laws are different from the Controlled Substances Act for a number of reasons.

Monitor: Georgia’s new approach on CBD will still put it among the more restrictive states regarding marijuana.

Peake: Yes and no. About 23 states have more wide-open laws, but other states, I think about 12, have more restrictive laws that only cover seizure disorders. Georgia will now become the only state with a law that is a true hybrid of the different approaches. We’ll allow use for seizure disorders, but also for a number of other diseases.

Monitor: Georgia’s Senate tweaked your bill by stripping fibromyalgia from that list. Doctors said that fibromyalgia is too loose of a diagnosis. What’s your take on that?

Peake: I’m not a medical professional, but that was a gut punch for me, because one of my constituents with fibromyalgia was a strong supporter of this effort. I’ll work next year to expand the law’s coverage to any disorders for which marijuana can be shown to have therapeutic value. Another diagnosis that’s on a potentially expanded list is rheumatoid arthritis.

Monitor: You tried to get a medical marijuana bill passed last year, but it got saddled down with another more controversial bill involving a mandate that private insurers cover autism. How did you avoid getting your medical marijuana bill this year from being tangled up with satellite issues like Senator Charlie Bethel’s autism bill, which appears again to be snagged in the House?

Peake: I’ve been supportive of Charlie’s initiative for suffering kids, and co-sponsored it, but it does appear to be bogged down in the House now. I think we all learned that we don’t need to tangle up two separate issues. Leadership played a role. I’m incredibly thankful to Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle for providing the opportunity for a clean bill on CBD, and to Senator Renee Unterman for helping shepherd this bill through the Senate without complication.

Georgia's capitol building -- the gold dome  that you can see clearly from the I-75/I85 connector in downtown Atlanta.

Georgia’s capitol building — the gold dome that you can see clearly from the I-75/I85 connector in downtown Atlanta.

Monitor: So tell us about what else is up this year under the gold dome. How about the transportation bill?

Peake: We’ve got to address our under-funding for transportation. Do we want to have a bridge go down and have the country wondering what is going on in Georgia with its transportation? Do we want to be known everywhere as the big Atlanta traffic jam? The basic idea under consideration is to fix these problems by raising revenue through raising the excise tax, and cutting fuel subsidies for some like airlines and a few favored kinds of vehicle owners. We’re elected to make tough decisions. I’m ready to do it.

Monitor: Prospects for this bill seem dependent on some extrinsic factors. Does it help that that gas prices are down?

Peake: Sure. But any way you look at it, it makes sense to charge people on a use basis. That’s the merit of the excise tax approach to funding transportation infrastructure. Burn more gas, pay more for road usage.

Monitor: Another controversial issue under consideration is the proposed state religious freedom restoration act, or RFRA. How do you come down on that?

Peake: For me personally, it’s a difficult and emotional subject. I have a gay brother who has spoken against it. At the same time, I don’t think the proposed law subjects anyone to discrimination at all. I believe that in the 20 other states that have enacted these state RFRAs, there hasn’t been a single instance of discrimination caused by the laws.

Monitor: The bill if passed would avoid Colorado-type problems of wedding-cake bakers being required to sell wedding cakes to same-sex couples against the bakers’ beliefs. How do you view legal requirements to do business against one’s beliefs?

Peake: As a business owner myself, I think that’s not a smart approach. I would never deny anyone service based on their sexual orientation. On the other hand, don’t we have to respect some business people’s legitimately held beliefs, and not force them into transactions that they would choose to avoid? Here in Georgia, we’re proposing an exception that would require critical needs to be provided. In Colorado, there were lots of other bakers who’d have been happy to have made that cake. That wasn’t a critical need.

Monitor: Some chambers of commerce have been critical of Georgia’s proposed RFRA. Why?

Peake: They apparently think that it would look bad for Georgia to have such a law. About twenty other states have similar laws, though, and it doesn’t seem to have negatively impacted their business climates.

Monitor: What’s up with education?

Peake: The governor’s proposal to encourage failing schools to get their acts together seems appropriate. There are a number of those schools in Bibb County. It could light a fire under them to change before being taken over. It would be a good incentive for change. It’s not a bad idea to shake things up if a school has been chronically failing.

Monitor: Are there any issues of local importance under the gold dome?

Peake: Payne City will be getting folded in to Macon-Bibb. We also considered whether to provide a way for Monroe County and Forsyth to consolidate. Macon-Bibb’s experience has been good enough that people in places like Milledgeville and Baldwin County are thinking of doing it. For the moment, though, we’re encouraging Monroe and Forsyth to work with the Vinson Institute to see what might make sense in terms of a specific proposal. The Vinson Institute worked with Milledgeville and Baldwin County, and their vote on their possible unification will come up on November 3.

Monitor: On a personal level, one Macon Monitor staffer, Alan Wood, editor of GWMAC, has guessed that you’ll be running for governor next time around. What say you?

Peake: I’m honored that you guys are talking about that. There are plenty of people who could do a great job in that role, many better than me. Still, I’d have to say that, with my business background, I’m personally better suited to an executive role as opposed to a legislative role, for instance as a congressman in Washington, which I see as a very troubled place.

As for the governor’s job, it’s a big deal.  You’ve got to have the stomach for some rough treatment. There are a lot of considerations. I’m thinking about it, but I’m undecided about what I’ll do.

Currently there are "6 comments" on this Article:

  1. Lea Drane says:

    Thank you again Rep. Peake for you dedication to this bill. I appreciate so much the fact that you listened to the people of the state, not just your district. I can see you going to DC., and I will support you should you make this decision. The entire State has seen your efforts and dedication to a cause the majority of Georgians believed in. Thank You.

  2. Elijah Lewis says:

    Even after getting on a patient registry there is still no legal source of MMJ or oil available to Georgians. One rep in GA has said “well, that’s the case whether there is a supply or not, all MMJ is federally illegal in GA”.

    And of course this is true. But going to your local dispensary isn’t going to get a knock on the door from the postal inspector arresting you for violating federal laws. Anyone smuggling marijuana oil from other states still stands the risk of being arrested for using the postal services and probably for breaking other laws. If everything were done in house (in state cultivation) the culpability of the law abiding citizen drops to almost zero.

  3. aron says:

    An opinion on Georgia’s new medical cannabis bill by A.M. Mussman

    The new Georgia medical marijuana bill entitled “Haleigh’s Hope Act” will allow a form of cannabis oil to be used in the treatment of nine specific medical conditions, but the political upheaval over the issue is not over. State senators managed to weaken the legislation by adding numerous amendments to the bill.

    One would reduce the amount of THC allowed in the cannabis oil. Another would allow using the oil to treat autism. And Amendment 4 would allow employers to prevent workers from having and using medical marijuana. The bill only allows the use of a cannabis derived oil containing mostly CBD or Cannabidiol and a maximum THC level of 5%.

    Is this baby steps for Georgia towards an actual functioning medical use law or just a discriminatory, highly limited in scope and scale scheme to placate the few families and individuals making enough noise in Georgia over the issue allowing Georgia lawmakers to say “look! We did something for these poor suffering children!”?

    Only individuals that suffer from one of the following specified ailments; cancer, sickle cell, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, mitochondrial disease, MS, Parkinson’s, and seizure disorders will have access to the oil. Oh, and if you are sick enough to qualify for use of the medicine your employer has the right to fire you. Well at least one can now legally treat one’s debilitating medical condition with the right medicine, they just won’t be able to afford it because they lost their job for essentially being sick.

    This brings the question of why, for example, a person has say, manic depression, and are being treated with psychotropic drugs like Prozac, Abilify, or Cymbalta can keep their job whilst the man with cancer being treated with CBD oil can be abruptly terminated.

    Marijuana, or cannabis, as it is commonly called, has been part of medicine for almost as long as history has been recorded.

    Of all the very bad things that have resulted from marijuana prohibition, none is as downright inhumane as the denial of medicinal cannabis to the thousands and thousands of good, hardworking but sick people who could benefit from its use.

    Research suggests that cannabis is an invaluable aid in the treatment of so many clinical applications, certainly more than a mere 9. These include pain relief — particularly of neuropathic pain (pain from nerve damage) — nausea, spasticity, glaucoma, and movement disorders. Marijuana is also a powerful appetite stimulant that could be used for patients suffering from HIV, the AIDS wasting syndrome, or dementia. New research suggests that the medicinal properties of cannabis may protect the body against some types of malignant tumors and can actually protect against nerve damage . At this time no more than 60 U.S. and international health organizations support giving sick patients immediate legal access to medicinal cannabis under a doctors supervision. Governor Deal shrugs this off implying he does not want Georgia becoming another Colorado. And what does that even mean? Is that supposed to be a bad thing?

    Currently in The United States 24 states have made cannabis legal for medicinal purposes,18 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis and 4 states plus our nation’s Capitol Washington DC have legalized recreational use of the plant. Why is Georgia so far behind progress on this issue? The answer is blatant for most but for those who fail to see the correlation I will not explain it to you here because that is another issue in and of itself.

    In summary Georgia’s new medical marijuana law is disingenuous at best and absolutely discriminatory at worst. Nathan Deal and Georgia’s lawmakers may have generally good intentions with the passing of GA HB 1 but they have a long way to go before cannabis in this state can be used by all those who need it without fear of losing their livelihood. I, along with half of our nation’s states do not think that is too much to ask.

    This isn’t about being a red state or blue state, this is about compassion, progression, and common sense. Complete legalization will come to Georgia but I predict it will be the last state in the Union to get there.

    Note to whom it may concern: Although in the very distant past I did in fact use marijuana,i no longer do. I do not care for the effects it has on me but the issue of legalization has always been a passion of mine.

  4. […] As mentioned in the earlier issue of the Macon Monitor, Peake is open to considering a run for governor. […]

  5. M.M Valarito says:

    Why are people still having issues believing cannabis oil has great potentials in fighting cancer? is it because of the so called chemotherapy that had be so publicized that almost got my uncle killed or what. we should be truthful and sincere to ourselves that cannabis oil is 100% better off than “Chemo” if not for cannabis oil we got from Dr Obi through the Internet (drobiakpocancerhealer4all@gmail.com) my Uncle would have been dead by now, so for me and my family’ cannabis oil is the way out from this cancerous menace eating the fabric of every promising individual out there trying to survived.

    M.M. Valarito

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