Talking Points: A cannabis Q&A with Ga. Rep. Allen Peake

Alia Carlton: How did you become aware of this issue and the need for medical cannabis?

Allen Peake: I got involved with this when I met a 4-year-old girl named Haylee Cox who was suffering from seizures. Her mom was looking at moving to Colorado where medical cannabis is legal, because there had been some significant opportunities for children with seizures. Her mother called me and asked if we could help her. When I met her daughter, I was faced with the question any of us would ask: “what would I do if this was my child?” And that’s what set the wheels in motion to try to pass legislation that would make medical cannabis legal in Georgia.

AC: Do you feel that you made a considerable amount of progress in this issue with HB 1?

AP: It was a considerable step. It allowed families to figure out how to get the product. There were a couple of manufacturers that were willing to ship the product to Georgia, but the next big step is figuring out how to produce it for them here so they can have a legal access point.

AC: What was it like being at the capitol the day the governor signed HB 1 into law?

AP: It was pretty special. It was a culmination of almost two years’ worth of work but a lot of people and a lot of families [fought] tirelessly for it. It was particularly special for me because I knew the positive impact it was going to have on a lot of these families’ lives, especially the ones who had spouses in Colorado and they were just waiting to come home until the bill was passed.

AC: Do you feel that legislators have been generally accepting of medical cannabis?

AP: There is an acceptance of the step we’ve taken so far, and I think most of my House colleagues understand the need to take the next step of providing a legal product here in Georgia. That was clearly not the consensus of the senate and not the consensus of the governor. He had some concerns about going down that path. That’s where our hurdles were and why we weren’t able to get anything passed this past session.

AC: How do you know personally that an addition of in-state cultivation is something that our state needs?  

AP: Now, there are really only two options for the families to be able to access medical cannabis oil. There are those manufacturers that are willing to ship some forms of medical cannabis to Georgia, but [in a very limited capacity]. In most cases, families are having to either go to another state, obtain the product there and come back to Georgia with it, which is breaking federal law. We are essentially telling citizens that they have to possess the product here but they’re going to have to break the law to go get it and bring it back. That’s a huge risk that families and citizens are trying to take but shouldn’t have to. Congress could act and change the federal law, or we could grow it here, process it here, distribute it here and regulate it here.

AC: How optimistic are you about the prospects of legal cultivation?

AP: It’s taken three years to get to this point and we’re not there yet, but I think there’s a clear consensus in our state that there are therapeutic, medicinal benefits to cannabis and that therefore we should set up proper infrastructure to have access to it. We’ve done poll after poll and it’s either 70 or 80 percent of Georgians approve of providing medical cannabis oil to citizens here in Georgia. So I think the tide is turning and I think there’s clearly going to be a time it will happen here in Georgia. I’m not sure when, but I’m hopeful it will be soon.

AC: Is there anything that young people can do to raise awareness for this cause?

AP: Let me say one thing from the get-go, I am very opposed to the recreational smoking of marijuana and particularly for young adults and teenagers. But yes, there are things that students can do. They can contact their state rep or state senator and if they’re not voting age, they can have their mom or dad contact their state senator and ask them to support medical cannabis here in Georgia.