Georgia Action Group

Among those honored at ASA’s 2016 Unity Conference was Action Group of the Year Georgia’s Hope. The group was recognized for advancing safe access in their state, with new legislation passed last year to protect patients.

Georgia’s Hope came together in late 2013 when two parent groups, one for children with seizures and one for kids with mitochondrial disorder, separately approached ASA for support after seeing Sanjay Gupta’s medical cannabis documentary on CNN. Once ASA put the two groups in touch with each other, they committed to working together and established themselves as an ASA Action Group in early 2014.

The first step was reaching out to their state legislators and the media, but they didn’t expect to get much attention. Yet immediately that work resulted in the Atlanta ABC station airing a segment with local families of children with intractable seizures that might be helped by medical cannabis, followed a few days later by an on-air interview with Janea Cox and her four-year-old daughter Haleigh, who would become the namesake of the state’s medical cannabis law. 

After State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) met Haleigh Cox in the hospital, he reached out to the ASA group asking to meet. Within just a few weeks, Rep. Peake had introduced with five co-sponsors a limited medical cannabis bill.  HB 885, also called Haleigh’s Hope Act, passed the House 171 to 4 but was denied a vote in the Senate by political maneuvering. As a result, many families, including Janea and Haleigh Cox, moved to other states to access cannabis treatment.

In 2015, Rep. Peake tried again, introducing HB 1 to allow cannabis oil with up to 5% THC for eight qualifying conditions.  The bill passed and was signed by Gov. Nathan Deal in April, but with no mechanism in the law to produce or acquire medicine, Georgia’s Hope was committed to passing a more comprehensive medical cannabis program.

“We will work until we get something,” said Sebastien Cotte, one of the leaders of Georgia’s Hope whose son Jagger has mitochondrial disease. “It is not just for our kids, but for all patients.”

In 2016, the Georgia’s Hope, Facebook page grew to more than 16,000 followers. They teamed up with another group, Hope United, to get support from more people representing other conditions.

A new bill introduced by Peake this year, HB 722, would have established an in-state cultivation and distribution program, added more qualifying conditions, and removed the THC limit. The bill had support in the House, but opposition from Gov. Deal forced Peale to scale it back to an expansion of qualifying conditions.  The stripped-down bill passed the House with overwhelming support but did not get a committee hearing in the Senate, despite patient lobbying into the final minutes of the session (pictured at left). 

“We thought we had a good but still very conservative bill with a lot of support from our legislators,” said Shannon Cloud, another active member of Georgia’s Hope “It was very discouraging to find out that it didn’t have a chance once the governor said before session even started he would not support it.  We will not give up until all patients have access.”

More Information:
Georgia’s Hope Facebook page

This profile was originally published in the May 2016 ASA Activist Newsletter