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Nathan Deal: Georgia 'needs to address' medical marijuana fix

The effort to legalize limited use of medical marijuana petered out in the legislative session's final hours last week amid infighting between Republicans over an unrelated bill to mandate autism coverage for children.

Now Gov. Nathan Deal says he's exploring an executive order or other steps that could allow Georgia families to use cannabis oil to treat certain seizure disorders until legislators return to Atlanta next year.

Deal, who has tread warily on the issue, told reporters Monday that some sort of administrative action on medical marijuana is "on my radar screen." Said the governor:

"All of us were moved by the families and the children that were involved with the medical marijuana bill and I certainly think that all of us want to try to figure out if there’s something we can do to provide them with the kind of assistance they need. ...

"I will be talking with all of our state agencies who have any kind of involvement in dealing with that issue to see if there is something we can do to make this treatment possible, assuming that the proper foundation of law enforcement security and medical protections are attached."

The legislation was designed to allow Georgia families to treat the disorders that cause hundreds of seizures a day and often lead to death. The cannabis oil that would have been legalized is harvested from the marijuana plant but does not create the high that recreational use of marijuana produces.

In the backdrop are concerns from Republicans that the refusal to pass the measure will hurt the GOP in November. Republican state Sen. Fran Millar angrily declared, " We did nothing for kids, but we passed a gun bill." And Democrat Jason Carter, his party's nominee for the top job, said the failures and infighting were the result of "visionless" leadership.

Deal said Monday he's not sure if administrative changes or other executive action will do the trick, but he said it's "something the state of Georgia needs to address."

It's no easy prospect, especially for a Republican in an election-year fight who could be testing federal drug restrictions. But state Rep. Allen Peake, the effort's GOP sponsor, said it is worth the risk.

"I’m going to support any initiative that helps get this done," said Peake, R-Macon. "If it takes an executive order from the governor, by God we ought to be doing it.”

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.