Medical pot is finding friends all over the country, some in unlikely places.
Republican lawmakers in the deepest red territory of the deepest Deep South are now pushing for limited forms of medical marijuana. Their plans could soon become law in such anti-drug bulwarks as Alabama and Mississippi.
Proposals are under consideration in these places that would give needy patients access to a cannabis oil high in a compound known as CBD. This oil is typically low in THC, the chemical that gets users high.
MMJ is allowed in 21 states, from coast to coast, and recreational pot is legal in two of those, Colorado and Washington. Lawmakers in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi are now pushing bills that would legalize CBD extract there, while voters in Florida could adopt full MMJ at the ballot box in November.
Conservative legislators in the Deep South are changing their tune on medical cannabis after hearing the stories of children who suffer hundreds of seizures a day. CBD could help children across the country who suffer from severe seizure disorders such as Dravet syndrome.
Parents of these children have been aggressively lobbying state legislatures for access to the CBD extract. Many lawmakers drawn to the cause said they changed their minds after meeting some of the children who could be helped by the oil.
“I’m an unlikely champion for this cause,” said Georgia Rep. Allen Peake. “Once people realize it’s not a 6-year-old smoking a joint, most folks realize this is the compassionate thing to do.”
Peake has sponsored a bill to legalize CBD extract in Georgia, a bill supported by more than 80 lawmakers, including several co-sponsors in the conservative House Republican leadership. The bill also has the support of the Medical Association of Georgia, the largest doctors’ group in the state.
In neighboring Alabama, state Rep. Mike Ball, a retired hostage negotiator, has sponsored legislation to let people with certain medical conditions use CBD oil. It passed an important committee vote Feb. 5.
“The public is starting to understand what this is,” said Ball, chair of a powerful House committee. “The political fear is shifting from what will happen if we pass it, to might what happen if we don’t.”
Another CBD oil bill is on the table in Mississippi, this one sponsored by state Sen. Josh Harkins, also a Republican. Kentucky and Tennessee are likewise considering MMJ bills, but they’re not likely to succeed anytime soon.
Louisiana is also considering reform, though no one has submitted legislation. A recent hearing on the matter drew a standing-room only crowd, and Gov. Bobby Jindal has said he’s open to the idea of medical marijuana.
“When it comes to medical marijuana . . . if there is a legitimate medical need, I’d certainly be open to making it available under very strict supervision for patients that would benefit from that,” Jindal said.
But the biggest action to watch is in Florida. Though not entirely a state of the Deep South, Florida’s politics are tightly intertwined with those of its neighbors to the north.
Florida voters will decide in November whether to adopt full medical weed. At least 60 percent of votes are needed for the matter to pass into law. If that happens, it will mean more than the interjection of CBD into the South. It will mean the presence of full-scale medical marijuana in the heart of the old Confederacy. Now there’s something to smoke on.