There are many families here in the state of Georgia that has families that suffer from having a child with autism. Here locally, Dale Jackson is well known on his fights at the Capital in order to try and pass a bill that includes autism on the medical marijuana registry in the state of Georgia. Jackson’s son Colin suffers from autism and for over one year now, he has been taking cannabis oil. Now, after the passing of SB16, he can do so legally in the state of Georgia. Jackson, a parent advocate, along with many others have had a long hard journey over three years in order to try and find help for their families. Their movement began back in 2015.
The original movement in 2015 started with a bill that dealt with seizure control. That bill was HB1, better known as Haleigh’s Hope. However, autism was removed from the bill. All of this began in 2015 during that session of congress. Senator Josh Mckoon attempted to pass an amendment to add autism back to HB1. The amendment failed but HB1 did pass.
Jackson and his team shifted their focus to another bill in 2016, a bill that got stalled by Renee Unterman that refused to give it a hearing. Once again, Jackson and the parent advocacy group shifted their focus. They found a bill, SB215 that had already passed the Senate in 2015 but had just sat since then. The group, partnering with the bill’s author Senator Josh Mckoon, added new language to the bill so that it did not have to return before the committee. With that, HB755 turned into SB215, complete with new language. It passed the House but when it returned to the Senate for the agree vote, there was an issue.
After meeting with Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, he told the group that he would attempt to help with the bill by adding autism back to the list. However, Jackson was brought down to the floor to view the bill that was going up for a vote. The bill did include autism, but cut the percentage of THC allowed in the oil from 5% to 3%. With only 30 seconds to make a decision, Jackson told them to vote no on the bill. It was a devastating defeat but one that would only help to strengthen the group.
When the 2017 session rolled around, the group was more determined than ever. Representative Allen Peake began the year with HB65, covering eight conditions. After meetings with the house, the bill still had eight conditions listed but they were a completely different eight conditions. At the same time, Senator Ben Watson authored SB16 which only included autism and also had a THC percentage of three, not five. After meetings with the bill’s author, Senator Ben Watson, and Senator Matt Brass, the bill underwent some changes. In the end, the bill was moved to 5% THC levels and passed the House on day 39 of the session of congress (March 28) and was confirmed by the senate the next day. This was a huge victory for the group.
SB16 officially added six new conditions to the state’s medical marijuana registry, allowing those that suffer with autism to legally take cannabis oil in the state of Georgia. In addition, there is a reciprocity agreement which allows for people from other states with medical marijuana cards to continue their treatments in Georgia as long as they follow the state guidelines. That means that while cannabis oil is legal for those with one of the covered medical conditions, you still cannot smoke marijuana in the state of Georgia.
This is a great victory for families that are affected by autism, but there are still many hurdles to jump through. In the state of Georgia, there is still no allotment for growing, processing, or distributing cannabis oil and still no way to legally obtain it.
For Jackson and his family, this is a huge step forward in progress. Jackson’s son Colin has made tremendous strides over the past year since he has been on cannabis oil. His progress includes being able to start feeding himself, take naps, and has even said his first word, “mama.” Jackson expressed such relief from just being able to see his son be able to take a nap.
“He can take a nap. It’s very difficult to properly convey to non autistic families the depths to which autism affects your family. My son just turned nine and I went seven years without seeing my child sleep. For short periods of time he could sleep in his room, in complete darkness, with no one in there and to be able to, on regular day of him just being tired from working his butt off at the Discovery Cottage all day long, and to see my son curl up on the couch an just take a 30 minute nap in the afternoon, that’s remarkable. For him to be able to curl up beside me and be able to go to sleep, to never have that connection with your child, that’s almost life changing in and of its self.”
Colin has made such dramatic improvements over the course of the past year, life changing improvements. In addition, there are countless other families that will be helped across the state by the passing of SB16, families that in many cases, without the help of cannabis oil, would be forced to give their child up to the state. It is a landmark move for the state of Georgia but there are many steps left to go, including a bill that will allow for a cultivation facility here in Georgia so that families can legally obtain cannabis oil. There will be many more updates in the months and years to come but for now, SB16 has brought about a great deal of relief for many families here in the state of Georgia.
Jeremy Andrews Staff Writer