Tag Archives: Senator Renee Unterman

Why is Sen. Ben Watson turning his back on Georgia’s cannabis patients?

Let’s start with the TL;DR. If you read no further, check out this video created by a supporter.

I’m over it. My enthusiasm and January gung ho attitude of years past are long gone. 2017 is the fourth legislative session in which we will continue to fight for medical cannabis in Georgia. I’ll be honest. Before my son’s seizures and getting involved in cannabis advocacy, I didn’t pay much attention to state politics. Now that I do, the corruption and hypocrisy constantly makes me sick.

This year is already shaping up to be the same old garbage. The support we have comes from the House, while the Senate schemes to screw over sick people. Some names are no surprise. Sen. Renee Unterman  (R, Buford) has been at it since this all began, so when Senate Bill 16 dropped, a bill that aims to lower the amount of THC permitted in Georgia from 5% to 3%, taking away options from patients, the only surprise to me was that she was a co-sponsor, rather than the lead.

The lead sponsor still came as a bit of a surprise, though. Doctor and Senator Ben Watson (R, Savannah) was a representative when all this started. He was very supportive of the original bills introduced by Allen Peake. He was even interviewed in his medical office, wearing his white coat, for the documentary Growing Hope: Georgia’s Fight for Cannabis Oil. In fact, check this video out at the 2:08 mark. (Side note: That’s my adorable kiddo at 2:02).

Yes, you heard him right. He said, “To say that marijuana, or THC, or cannabidiol has no medicinal value, I think, is just immoral.”

And yet, now he leads the charge to decrease the amount of THC permitted by people who hold a Georgia cannabis card? It’s not enough that the Governor has used the Senate to block cultivation and families have to travel out-of-state to get the higher THC products, now he wants to take away their rights to possess and use it in the state of Georgia?

Sebastien Cotte is father to Jagger who has mitochondrial disease, and Sebastien has been a huge advocate from the start. He has already been down to the Gold Dome and here is part of his Facebook post about his first day of advocacy in 2017. This was his account of a conversation he had with Watson.

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Ummm… Georgia has an opioid epidemic going on. Are you being serious right now, Senator?

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Oh, by the way, the Georgia senate has also passed a law limiting the number of opioid treatment clinics while they set up a committee to investigate why Georgia has the largest number of clinics in the region.

Katie McKoy, a fellow special needs mom of three, dug these up for me within five minutes of my posting on Facebook about Sebastien’s conversation. Let’s stroll down memory lane and remember when we had Watson’s support.

http://news.wabe.org/post/doctors-can-sign-patients-medical-marijuana-registry

https://www.savannahbusinessjournal.com/news-categories/featured-columnists/4746-apr-21-columnist-state-senator-ben-watson-state-house-report-wrap-up.html

http://gareport.com/story/2015/03/24/senate-passes-medical-marijuana-bill/

So what changed? He supported us in the House of Representatives, where the powers that be are behind us. But then he moves to the Senate, where Casey Cagle and Renee Unterman routinely try to stick it to sick people, likely at the behest of Governor Nathan Deal (who has proven that he’s only interested in photo ops with sick kids, not actually helping them) and suddenly he’s taking the lead on moving Georgia’s very limited program backward.

Five out of six of the senators who signed as sponsors of this new bill previously voted to pass our current (thoroughly gutted by the senate and governor) medical cannabis bill. Why wasn’t that gut job enough? Now that Rep. Allen Peake is introducing two new bills, one to expand the protected medical conditions, and another to put medical cannabis on the ballot for citizens to decide, I guess the senate needed leverage to shut those down. It’s sick. Nothing but games for these elected individuals. And FYI, whereas Peake’s bill adds several medical conditions to be permitted cannabis use, the senate is only adding autism.

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The sponsors of SB 16 are:

Ben Watson (R, Savannah, District 1)  404-656-7880    ben.watson@senate.ga.gov

Renee Unterman (R, Buford, District 45)  404-463-1368  renee.unterman@senate.ga.gov   (Votes in favor, just tries to strangle it behind the scenes).

In 2014, she admitted to WSB’s Lori Geary she was holding the bill hostage until her bill was heard.She also said, “These parents don’t understand how the General Assembly works but this building is nothing but politics.”

Francis Millar (R, Dunwoody, District 40) 404-463-2260  francis.millar@senate.ga.gov

2014:

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2016:

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Greg Kirk (R, Americus, District 13)  404-463-5258   greg.kirk@senate.ga.gov  (When in-state cultivation was proposed said he wasn’t sure we should go down that road).

Nan Orrock (D, Atlanta, District 36)  404-463-8054  nan.orrock@senate.ga.gov (Has been vocally supportive on the floor, so I’m not sure why she’s co-sponsoring this).

Chuck Hufstetler  (R, Rome, District 52)  404-656-0034  chuck.hufstetler@senate.ga.gov  (Hufstetler is the only sponsor who has never voted in favor of medical cannabis. He likens Colorado to the “Wild West.” He’d feel better if the FDA approved it — the same FDA that approved pure hydrocodone, an opioid five to 10 times the strength of Vicodin).

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Governor Deal plans to block medical cannabis expansion.

I’m experiencing a serious feeling of deja vu. Except last year Governor Nathan Deal waited until after Christmas to drop the bomb on the sick and suffering of Georgia, along with their families. Happy holidays, citizens. You don’t matter.

Let’s do a brief recap. In early 2014, a parent lobby rose up, with the help of Rep. Allen Peake of Macon, to try and pass HB 885/Haleigh’s Hope Act to help people with epilepsy access cannabis oil. It was a very limited law, but by the time it hit the floor on the final day of session, it had been whittled down to nothing but immunity for possession of the oil. Political games were played, namely by Sen. Renee Unterman of Buford and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle (who has his sights set on the Governor’s seat), and the bill died, much to the devastation of the families. As the clock ticked toward midnight, several families ran to Deal’s office to beg him to intervene, to demand that the bill get a vote. He wouldn’t come out of his office. More families moved to Colorado in desperation. And three children I knew through this effort would pass away as the fight continued.

Over the course of the year, Peake led a commission to explore the idea further and how to make it work in Georgia. They concluded in December of 2014. Everyone was excited at the prospect of a bill that would include more conditions and allow a higher ratio of THC to CBD  (necessary for many people for whom CBD alone doesn’t cut it). It was also supposed to allow cultivation and growth in the state of Georgia as bringing it over state lines is federally illegal. Before the session even started, Deal made it clear growing was off the table. It was another devastating blow, however, HB 1 did pass with several eligible conditions. Residents could apply for a card that allowed them to possess cannabis oil with up to 5 percent THC.

Let me quickly say, I am for full medical marijuana. Legislators should not be able to dictate what conditions or stages of disease are eligible. They are NOT doctors, except in rare instances. But this is the sad hand we are dealt in Georgia. Too many elected officials that think it is their job to parent rather than represent the will of the people, who are largely in favor of medical cannabis. The goal for 2016 was to hopefully expand conditions and allow growing so that federal law doesn’t have to be broken to obtain it.

The signing of HB1 in 2015 was quite the production with the Governor’s office. He even shed (crocodile) tears as he signed the bill to help the families his staff strategically placed around him for the camera op. It was a performance worthy of an Academy Award.

Over the course of the past year, taxpayers have sponsored another committee to explore options for growing in Georgia. They have not completed their work or presented the final findings to Deal, however, yesterday he came out and said he will not support growing in 2016 either, even though the whole point of the committee he appointed was to make that happen.

He says law enforcement doesn’t want it. Well, last time I checked, that isn’t the branch of government that writes the laws.

He also says that the 300 people who have registered aren’t enough to be worth the cost of the program. Hear that, fellow card holders? Our loved ones aren’t worth it. He fails to recognize that many people can’t register because the restricted legislation doesn’t include their conditions, or if it does, they have to be end stage (yeah, you aren’t dying enough yet), and many need more THC than is allowed by the current law. Several patients are also encountering the issue of their doctor refusing to sign off simply because they oppose the idea or lack education about how it can benefit various conditions.

I find it funny that he considers the cost/benefit ratio not good enough to have in-state grow, but he supported pharmaceutical trials that cost the state an extraordinary amount of money, and have taken forever to benefit anyone at all.

He never intended to listen to either committee. But he was happy to waste your tax money putting on a show of fake compassion.

There are two things I really hate about epilepsy. The first is obviously what it has done and continues to do to my child, even though he has shown extraordinary improvement on CBD oil.

The second is how it has left me feeling about my state and my country. Getting involved in corrupt politics has been so incredibly disheartening. I was happier in the dark, but there is no going back. I just hope there is a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a majority that can override Deal’s veto. But that road looks a lot like a Georgia road in an episode of The Walking Dead. We need everyone to speak up. Please call and email your state senators, representatives and, of course, the governor. Let him know you are tired of him ignoring the will of the people.

This site will help you find out who your state officials are:

http://openstates.org/find_your_legislator/

Governor Deal, this is just one the many faces you are hurting. Look at him. He is a person. He is a Georgia resident. He is loved. Now do your job.

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For more on what happened last year, read this.

 

 

 

And another medical marijuana refugee is born…

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Janea and Haleigh left for Colorado yesterday. Haleigh is the little girl for whom HB885 is named “Haleigh’s Hope Act.” The awesome Rep. Allen Peake met her and immediately began his crash course into the world of medical cannabis and CBD oil, pushing this Georgia bill with everything in him.  But Haleigh’s declining health means she can’t wait. Her father must stay behind in Georgia because of his job.

HB885 has passed the senate committee but with major changes. Cultivation is out. Basically, it provides legal protection to a person caught with CBD oil. It does not help us obtain it. This was always a hurdle even with cultivation (there were different issues surrounding that). You’d have to get it in a legal state and get here without being caught. Frankly, places like Realm of Caring are not going to sell it to you knowing you plan to cross state lines against federal law because that puts them in danger of being shut down by the DEA. It’s important to understand that this bill, even if passed on the senate floor, signed by the governor and made law, would not allow everyone to run out and get it for their kids. It does prepare our state, however, for a change at the federal level. If the feds reclassify it with the DEA — as they need to — we are ready to go. And hopefully, passing this in such a conservative state will add more pressure to the federal government to get off their butts and help people.

Another twist is that a separate bill is now attached to HB885. The chair of the senate committee, Renee Unterman, has been trying to pass a bill for five years (Ava’s Law) mandating that insurance companies cover treatment for autism (Georgia is one of a minority of states that don’t require autism to be covered). A compromise bill that increases benefits up to age 6 is now part of a package with HB885 called the Kid Care Act. The autism bill has also been tacked onto HB943, which would prevent insurance discrimination over certain types of cancer treatment. The reason is that the autism bill alone would have to go through subcommittee in the House, and thus far, they haven’t been willing to hear it. By tacking it onto bills that have already passed the House, it bypasses the subcommittee when it goes back to the House for approval for the change.

Now the bill must go through the Senate Rules Committee and then go to the Senate floor for a vote. Then it goes back to the House for approval. Last day of session is March 20. Nothing like going down to the wire! Once again, if you haven’t e-mailed your Georgia state senator yet to support HB885, you can find out who yours is at openstates.org.

Also of note are two op-eds in the AJC today. Eli Hogan shares his experience living with Crohn’s Disease and it is a great read. It is followed by a  counter-point from Rep. Sharon Cooper. As you read it, please keep in mind that she voted to pass HB885 twice. First out of committee, then on the floor. I would also urge you to read some of the excellent comments from parents below the essays.

If you missed Sanjay Gupta’s follow up to last year’s special Weed, you can find it here. The original is here. Anyone who cannot invest the 45 minutes it takes to watch at least one of these has no right to question the people who are fighting for these changes.