Haleigh’s Hope Act
As you might imagine, the Peach State is rather conservative when it comes to cannabis. That said, it does have a medical cannabis program. But it’s complicated. An advocacy group, Georgians for Freedom in Health Care Coalition, pushed for the law. The group is co-chaired by Shannon Cloud. She’s the mother of the Haleigh who the law is named after, a then 10-year-old who suffers from Dravet syndrome.
This is a childhood epileptic condition which causes a high number of seizures per day. It rarely responds to traditional medication. Yet, evidence suggests such patients can see a dramatic turnaround when treated with cannabis oil. Many other parents, whose children suffer from this or a similar condition, joined Cloud’s coalition. Advocacy began in 2013. In April 2015, then governor Nathan Deal signed the Haleigh’s Hope Act into law.
How Does the Law Work?
This is a limited law. A physician must certify that a patient is eligible. Then that patient can get a medical card. Card carrying state residents may receive up to 20 ounces of low THC cannabis oil to help treat their serious and treatment-resistant condition. There’s been one sticking point, however. It’s illegal for cannabis oil to be produced within the state. Unfortunately, it’s also illegal to purchase it online or buy it in another state and transport it over state lines.
The state legislature plans to take up the issue this year. Former state Rep. Allen Peake who championed the cause, now retired, put in a temporary stopgap measure for parents of patients and the patients themselves. He’s been running a charity that distributes such oil to qualified patients. So far, where the charity gets the oil from hasn’t been disclosed.
Lawmakers have been reticent to allow production of the plant in-state, for fear it would lead to an increased consumption of high-powered cannabis. Pressure from patients and their families, along with a paradigm shift in how the public views the plant–particularly for medical purposes, is putting pressure on legislators to alleviate this undue burden.
What About Recreational?
Recreational cannabis is not on the horizon. However, in April 2018, the Atlanta mayor and city council decriminalized possession, citing the racial disparity in how drug laws are enforced. Anyone caught with an ounce or less within the city limit will, instead of facing criminal penalties and jail time, pay a fine of $75.
To receive medical cannabis oil, two forms must be filled out and signed by the patient and their physician. One is a waiver and the other, a certification form. If the state approves these, a patient can receive a medical card for $25, by visiting a local public health office. Qualifying conditions for the program include: end-stage cancer, autism, wasting syndrome, intractable nausea or vomiting, Crohn’s disease, intractable seizures, end-stage AIDS, Alzheimer’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease, mitochondrial disease, intractable pain, severe Tourette’s syndrome, severe or end-stage multiple sclerosis (MS), severe Parkinson’s, and severe or end-stage sickle cell disease. In addition, hospice patients may be eligible.