Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Ralston: 'Really, fervently hope' medical cannabis bill passes quickly in 2015

Two of the most hotly contested issues from this year's Georgia legislative session, medical cannabis and a private-insurance mandate for autism , remain on the docket for 2015. In an interview this afternoon, Speaker David Ralston predicted an easy time in his chamber for one of those issues, but not necessarily the other.

HB 1 , pre-filed by Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, would allow the parents of children who suffer severe seizures to have access to cannabidiol oil, which is made from an extract of the cannabis plant and has been effective in reducing the number and severity of seizures in some children. Here's what Ralston said:

"I really, fervently hope that -- and I expect -- the House will move House Bill 1 quickly. And I hope the Senate will look at that issue on its own merits and join with us in passing that bill. Representative Peake has done as good a job pushing a piece of legislation as I've seen in a lot of years around this building. He brings great passion and just heartfelt concern for these families on this issue. But he’s done his homework. And I think you're going to see a very well thought-out and very well put-together bill and I'm hoping we can pass that quickly and get it over to the Senate, and that they will pass it quickly and that we can address that issue."

Last year's medical cannabis bill gained surprising momentum over the course of the session but eventually stalled. That was in large part because the Senate attached to it a separate bill, opposed by the House, to mandate autism coverage by private insurance plans. The House disagreed with that combination, and both efforts died.

Based on what Ralston said about that mandate, it sounds as if the House's concerns about the costs of such a mandate haven't faded away:

"These are emotional issues, and I get that. But at the end of the day, we're talking about a mandate on small businesses. Either we are true to our principles in terms of trying to avoid those mandates so that people can keep their jobs and small businesses can afford to stay open, or we don't. We've made some significant strides in terms of adding funding in the budget for two different autism treatment centers, research facilities, last session. I certainly support doing what we can in that area again this session. The governor put in a pilot program in the state budget which will enable us to really know what the cost of those mandates will be. I kept asking, all (through the 2014) session, somebody, tell me what this is going to cost? Nobody could ever tell me. They always would tell me, it's not going to cost much. Well, you know, 'not much' is in the eye of the small-business beholder. ... I'm hoping we can have some accurate and reliable data from that (pilot program) that will let us make an educated decision on that issue.

"That was my whole problem with having that issue coupled with the medical cannabis bill last session. In the medical cannabis bill, no one is asking for a penny. They're simply asking for the opportunity not to be prosecuted for seeking care for a child. So I thought that was a very unfortunate coupling of those two issues.  They're both important, they're both emotional, and they both need to be considered on their own merits."

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.