Charlie Harper: Mississippi leads, Georgia lags

April 21, 2014 

Mississippi legalized a form of medical marijuana last week. That's right. Mississippi.

I do not in any way intend to demean my friends from Mississippi in saying that. I have very close friends from there. I call them "Aunt" and "Cousin." They are, in every way, awesome people. As a Methodist family, they have moved all around their state, and I've visited most of their hometowns. From Gautier on the Gulf Coast to Eupora and Oxford to the North, and places like Newton and Morton in between. I like their state, and I like its people.

In many ways, Mississippi reminds me of the Georgia I knew growing up when Fayette County was still considered rural. People knew their neighbors. People spoke to each other in public and waved at other drivers as they passed. And people always, if they saw a need, helped others. Especially the children. That's the Georgia I grew up in, and the Mississippi I still enjoy visiting.

Mississippi saw a need and decided to address it. Governor Bryant signed a bill into law last week allowing Cannabidiol oil to treat children with epileptic seizures. The oil has been stripped of its THC, and thus, cannot get a patient high.

The science is still weak on whether the substance is truly effective, but for parents who have children suffering debilitating seizures, they have seen enough anecdotal evidence to believe. The oil gives them hope where no other hope currently exists. Mississippi lawmakers have decided that hope in the absence of anything else available to fill a need is sufficient. They see the need. They've done what they can to fill it.

Georgia's lawmakers saw a similar need this past session. Representative Allen Peake of Macon offered a bill that few thought would pass. Yet at the beginning of the session, it was clear attitudes were changing. Public comments from Speaker David Ralston and Senator Josh McKoon saying they would look to the science of medical marijuana with an open mind showed a major shift. By Crossover Day, Rep Peak has answered all but a handful of his house detractors. His bill passed 171-4.

It would have done what Mississippi did last week. It would have looked where hope was needed, and offered help.

Instead of help, the Senate offered hostages. That was the word that Senator Rene Unterman used when talking to Atlanta TV reporter Lori Geary. Unterman wanted a bill passed that would have mandated autism coverage for all Georgia insurance policies.

The bill was controversial within the autism community and vigorously opposed by a business community that is already trying to cope with uncertainly and dramatically escalating costs for their employees' healthcare. Yet Unterman insisted that without her bill, the bill that would have allowed Cannibidiol oil to treat children with chronic seizures would not pass. And it did not.

Unterman may have had other motives. There's an opening for the Senate's Majority Leader position next year with the retirement of Senator Ronnie Chance. In a legislature, the opposite party is considered "the opposition" while the other chamber is considered "the enemy." Standing strong against the House to showcase personal backbone may have been as much about rounding out a resume as it was about supporting autistic children. In the end, the children with autism were left with their status quo while the children suffering from seizures continue to have to look out of state if they wish to have treatment.

The governor, lacking new authorization from the General Assembly, has conducted a review and issued a few executive orders. They will pave the way for a path to clinical trials in conjunction with a drug manufacturer and Georgia Regents University. The second would have the state conduct a clinical trial at Georgia Regents University using cannibidial oil obtained from … Mississippi.

Mississippi is still more conservative, and dare I say, more "Southern" than Georgia. But they figured out how to get over preconceived notions, stereotypes, and politics to help kids. Thankfully, it appears they're willing to help us Georgians, too.

Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government;

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