Earlier this year, Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) introduced a bill that would allow Georgians who suffer from seizure disorders to be treated with cannabis oil.
The bill had bipartisan support and was co-sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman, the Chairwoman of the Health & Human Services Committee.
But Gov. Nathan Deal refused to offer his support when it mattered most.
With strong support from 69 percent of doctors, the parents of children who suffer from severe seizures and the public, the bill seemed like a clear win for Georgia and an easy position for the governor to support.
Even world-renowned neurosurgeon and CNN’s chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been outspoken about the effectiveness of medical marijuana treatment.
So why did the bill die?
The short answer: money and politics.
Big pharmaceutical companies like Novartis and its partner company GW Pharmaceuticals want to drastically slow down the push for medical marijuana in favor of conducting clinical trials that could take years to complete — because these companies produce the pill that would be used in the trials.
They also happen to be major donors to Gov. Nathan Deal, Sen. Unterman and Rep. Sharon Cooper — three Georgia politicians who prefer slow-moving clinical trials to legislation that could help Georgia families today.
The pharmaceutical industry, including Novartis, has given more than $60,000 to Cooper and $33,000 to Unterman.
Deal received at least $6,500 from Novartis while in Congress, and the company contributed $2,500 to Deal’s campaign for governor.
Deal also recently met with Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a fervent opponent of medical marijuana.
Adelson is so strongly opposed to medical marijuana that he spent $2.5 million to help defeat a ballot initiative that would have legalized the treatment in Florida. And now he’s looking to buy influence in Georgia through contributions to Deal’s re-election campaign.
But campaign contributions are only the tip of the iceberg for Deal.
Novartis also plays a huge role in Gov. Deal’s economic development plan for Georgia.
The company owns an 850,000-square-foot campus in Johns Creek, Ga., where they produce contact lens products. When it was rumored that the Swiss-based Novartis had plans to leave Georgia, Gov. Deal, himself, flew to Switzerland to convince the company to keep its money here.
Deal must have made a convincing argument, because Novartis agreed to stay in Ga. and invest $250 million in their Johns Creek operations.
The question remains: What did Gov. Deal promise Novartis to get them to stay?
Medical research supports the safety and effectiveness of medical marijuana in treating seizures and Georgia families have been vocal about the need to fast-track legislation that will help their kids right now.
Medical marijuana could literally be a lifesaver for many Georgia families who simply can’t afford to wait for politicians who see the issue as a way to make money.
Gov. Deal has made it clear that he values big pharma’s money over helping Georgians who would benefit from medical marijuana treatment.
Fortunately, on Nov. 4, we will be able to voice our values at the ballot box.
Medical marijuana can quickly become a reality in Georgia, but we need real leaders who will fight for Georgia families instead of the financial interests of big pharma.