A Republican lawmaker in Georgia is planning to unveil a bill to legalize a medicine derived from marijuana after paying a visit last week to a local 4-year-old girl whose severe seizure disorder could be mitigated by the substance.
"I'm an unlikely champion for this cause. I've never done drugs. Never smoked marijuana in my life," state Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) told The Huffington Post over the phone. "But I had a visit with Haleigh Cox, the daughter of a constituent of mine. The result of seeing the pain and suffering she goes through, having 100 seizures a day, and seeing a potential remedy through cannabidiol treatment, I was compelled to move to action."
Peake told HuffPost he is currently drafting a limited-scope bill that would legalize cannabidiol oil in the state of Georgia to help children like Haleigh cope with their seizures. Cannabidiol is a non-psychoactive component of the marijuana plant.
"I just know if Haleigh was my daughter or my grandchild, I would be moving heaven and earth to make sure [cannabidiol] was available. That's how we need to look at it. This is somebody's child," he said. "I'm going to use every ounce of political influence I have [to pass this bill.]"
The bill that Peake is working on, which he hopes to introduce next week, would establish a tightly restricted program that would be "very regulated" and "doctor managed," he said. Smoking marijuana will not be allowed under any conditions.
Peake heard about Haleigh after her parents were interviewed by a local news station, saying they planned to move their daughter away from her family in Georgia so she could access cannabidiol legally.
Right now Haleigh is on a cocktail of drugs that leave her lethargic. "She's on 4 types of medication, two benzos [benzodiazepines] and one opiate," her mother, Janea Cox, told local ABC affiliate WSB-TV. "She mostly sleeps because the drugs have shut her brain down so much."
"People are leaving their families, their churches, their support systems behind to take a risky trip to Colorado because they desperately want to give hope to their children. Why not provide that same hope here in Georgia?" Peake asked.
A few other lawmakers in Georgia's General Assembly have come out of the woodwork to support the effort. One is Rep. Micah Gravley (R-Douglasville), who told HuffPost he's met with parents who say their children have ailments that could be alleviated by medical marijuana.
"I am not in favor of opening up the discussion about recreational use of marijuana in Georgia, but if some components and derivatives of this plant can help to improve the quality of life or even save the life of a child, I believe the right thing to do as lawmakers is to move forward with granting parents and children access to beneficial treatment," Gravley said in an email on Wednesday.
Gravley said he plans to co-sponsor Peake's bill.
Georgians themselves already seem to support legalizing medical marijuana. A poll taken this month by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling found that 57 percent of state residents would want it legalized if a loved one was suffering and could benefit from using cannabis.
Whether or not the bill will be approved by the Georgia General Assembly remains to be seen. Other lawmakers in the state are cautious about creating a program that could be exploited by people who just want to get high, state Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) told HuffPost.
"No one wants to deny a child in need medical access. But no one wants to pass a law with loopholes that allow for recreational use," said McKoon, who has proposed a committee hearing on the issue to gather the facts and science behind medical weed.
Overall, though, McKoon said he thinks the bill has a chance: "The environment is positive. Whether it gets passed this year, I can't say for certain. But changes are definitely on the horizon for our medical marijuana statute."