LaGRANGE — House Bill 722 — the proposal that will add autism, AIDS and PTSD to the list of disorders now eligible to use medicinal marijuana — passed the Georgia House of Representatives by a 152-8 vote Monday morning.
The vote came on crossover day — halfway through the 2016 legislative session.
The bill would potentially help Dale Jackson’s 7-year-old son, Colin, whom has a severe form of autism and cannot verbally communicate with his family nor perform simple tasks, like tying his shoes.
But Jackson knew ahead of the vote he would not be happy with the outcome.
The very outspoken supporter of legalizing cannabis oil for medical purposes in the state of Georgia for the past two years is now just as actively fighting against the 2016 version of the bill, HB722, which would place his son on the registry for a medical marijuana card.
“I cannot possibly overstate how painful it is to me to publicly come out against this bill,” Jackson said. “Not since I was informed of Colin’s diagnosis of autism have I ever experienced something this painful.”
According to Jackson, despite the inclusion of more disorders, HB722 was stripped of two key proposals: the addition of cannabis oil cultivation labs in Georgia and an increase in the percentage of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the oil from 5 percent.
“Governor Deal and his floors leaders stepped in and forced Rep. Alan Peake (R–Macon, author of HB1 and HB722) to completely rewrite the whole bill (HB722) … so they gutted 80 percent of the bill,” Jackson explained. Deal is “attempting to pass another meaningless bill so that next year, in 2017, this issue does not come up again. It is unusual that our cause has gained traction for two years in a row. This is why we, Hope United, think we need to kill this bill this year to have a better chance of having something more substantial with more substance passed next year.
“I will put even more effort into killing this bill for the sake of all the families in Georgia,” he added. “The governor wants us to accept a small victory in a small war so he can win the battle, and I refuse to let him win that battle.”
Jackson said he and some of the families in Hope United are prepared to take their frustrations with the legalization of medicinal marijuana in the Peach State one step further, especially since people have to break several laws to obtain it.
“Hope United is committed to showing the state of Georgia the utter lunacy of what Governor Deal has asked to do. He has asked us to break state and federal laws to obtain cannabis oil,” Jackson stated. “So our question to the Governor is this: Is he willing to stand up and defend the citizens of Georgia when we do exactly what he told us to do and break federal law? Will he help us when those federal agents come into the state and attempt to prosecute us for doing what he told us to do?”
Jackson said he hoped for a face to face meeting with Deal, but on Feb. 16, Jackson; his daughter Camille; Ava Fowler, who is being treated with cannabis oil; along with several Hope United supporters attempted to deliver signed petitions in support of HB722 and medical marijuana cultivation labs to the governor’s office. They were stopped by a state trooper at the door. Jackson said Deal refused to see them.
Right now, Jackson said there are close to 200 families willing to stand together in what he called a “public act of civil disobedience.”
“The system is ridiculous. The average citizen in Georgia cannot fly out to Colorado four times a year, get their product and fly back,” he said. “Average citizens don’t know a high-powered congressman who can get them out of trouble should some law enforcement agency come after them. This is why we refuse to accept HB722 as it stands right now.”
HB722 now moves on to the Georgia Senate where legislators could potentially add the proposal of cultivation labs back into the bill.
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.