Activists to Push Legislature for Medical Marijuana in Georgia

December 25, 2012

Matthew Charles Cardinale, Atlanta Progressive News

A coalition of organizations that deal with marijuana policy reform have come together to push the Legislature to address the issue of medical marijuana in the upcoming 2013 Legislative Session. The new coalition, the Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform & Education Project (Georgia CARE Project), held a press conference at the State Capitol on Monday, December 17, 2012.

According to a press release obtained by Atlanta Progressive News, the Georgia CARE Project is a project of the Georgia Taxpayers Alliance (GTA).

James Bell, 53, both of the GTA and the Project, tells APN he had been involved in the marijuana legalization movement since 1986 as then-Director of the Georgia Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).  Bell says he is turning to the issue after turning his focus to property tax issues for the last ten years.

“What really sparked it off was when Gov. Deal and the Legislature enacted a study committee on criminal justice and reform, and their goal was to look at how can we reduce the number of nonviolent offenders in the Georgia prison system,” Bell said.

As previously reported by APN, the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians was established shortly after Gov. Deal came into office. 

After a series of public hearings that included no speakers from groups critical of the prison system or of drug policy in Georgia, the group issued a list of recommendations in December 2011 that did not include marijuana law reform, as APN noted at the time.

The Legislature enacted many of the recommendations of the Special Council during the 2012 Legislative Session.

Last week, the Special Council issued its 2012 report, dealing specifically with issues of juvenile justice.

“If they can decriminalize crimes such as theft, burglary, and forgery--they did enact legislation to drop the penalties--then certainly they can look at marijuana laws and lower the penalties for that,” Bell said.

“Decriminalize it, medicalize it, I’m open to almost any form of reform,” Bell said.

Bell said he wants the Legislature in 2013 to create a special committee to study the issues of marijuana law reform, to report back for action during the Legislative Session in 2014.

“A person who smokes marijuana does not commit a crime against another person, it’s a victimless crime.  It’s a crime against the government,” Bell said.

In May 2012, APN reported that Sharon Ravert of Peachtree NORML announced having spoken with certain Legislators, who she said would be prepared to sponsor the legislation.

Dean Sines told APN that the Legislators included four Republicans, one Independent, and one Democrat, declining to name them at this point.

In addition, as part of APN’s 2012 elections coverage, APN asked numerous candidates for State House of Representatives whether they were in support of medical marijuana in the State of Georgia, several of whom went on to be elected or reelected.

State Reps. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta), Margaret Kaiser (D-Atlanta), and Rep.-Elect “Able” Mable Thomas (D-Atlanta) each indicated their support for medical marijuana, while State Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta) said she would have to see the specific legislation before offering support, and State Rep. Sheila Jones (D-Atlanta) declined her support.

Activists who attended the press conference last week include Esmee Baincroft, Students for Sensible Drug Policy at Georgia State University; Bell; Adrian Bernell, of Caravan for Peace and Justice with Dignity; Paul Cornwell, National Coordinator of Coalition Against Marijuana Prohibition (CAMP); Ebony Love of NORML’s Women Alliance; Sharon Ravert and Dean Sines of Peachtree NORML; and Ron Williams of GTA.

Marijuana reform, is “not necessarily a progressive issue,” Bell added.  “It's also a conservative and constitutional issue.”

Meanwhile, the Georgia Composite Medical Board (GCMB) is apparently still continuing to refuse to implement the Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Program, which was established by the Georgia Legislature in 1980 to study the therapeutic efficacy of marijuana (OCGA 43-34-120 et seq).

While the GCMB issued a call on or around April 2011, with the apparent intent of appointing members to the Patient Qualification Review Board--a Board established under Georgia law in 1980 that has never operated--the GCMB has taken no further action to appoint members to the PQRB.

The Rt. Reverend Gregory Karl Davis of the Universal Orthodox Church told APN that he is in an open records dispute with the GCMB regarding meeting minutes that he says are relevant to the Board’s failure to implement Georgia law.

APN receives numerous inquiries from Georgians interested in the PQRB who read about it in APN, demonstrating a need for a medical marijuana program in Georgia.  APN typically forwards the inquiries to activists.

In addition, Cornwell is currently in a dispute with the City of Atlanta regarding his ability to sponsor a Great Atlanta Pot Festival at Freedom Park. 

According to a copy of an email written by Adrienne Wright, Special Events Manager for the City of Atlanta, to Cornwell, on December 18, 2012, assembly is not allowed in Freedom Park because it is a “passive park.”  Cornwell is considering legal action.

Eighteen US states have medical marijuana laws and marijuana is now completely legal under state laws in Colorado and Washington.  Numerous states are now considering further reforms since the 2012 election results in Colorado and Washington.

In addition, in October 2012 the US Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia heard arguments in a case challenging the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance by the US Drug Enforcement Agency.  Currently, as a Schedule 1 drug, marijuana is in the same category as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, and is considered by the DEA to be more dangerous than methamphetamine and cocaine.

The case is Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration.


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