Running out of options

Published 6:00 am Friday, January 13, 2017

By Melanie Ruberti


Running out of options

Local dad renews legislative fight; more access to medical marijuana

 LaGRANGE – In the 11 months since Colin Jackson, 8, began taking cannabis oil twice a day, the little boy’s cognitive abilities have grown by leaps and bounds.

Colin has Autism that robbed him of the ability to speak or communicate, or even complete basic tasks like tying his shoes, getting dressed or eating by himself.

Those inabilities all started to change once his dad, Dale Jackson, managed to gain access to medicinal marijuana in March, 2016.

 “He is much better in coping with large crowds and loud noises,” Jackson explained about his oldest son. “He eats and sleeps better. He’s starting to communicate with us. Colin still isn’t speaking, but he understands what my wife and I are saying to him, and that prevents him from getting upset. I am 100 percent convinced this (cannabis) oil has helped him become more effective along with the traditional therapy programs he is enrolled in at Discovery Cottage.”

But Colin’s new capabilities have come at a steep price accompanied by a lot of risk for him and his family.

“The worries and the stress on any special needs family is incredibly hard already. Then add in the fact that what we’re doing is technically illegal … it is a heavy burden. It is especially hard on my wife,” Jackson said.

While it is legal to have medicinal marijuana in Georgia for those on the state registry, it is still against state and federal law to bring illegal drugs across state lines.

There is also no other state in the country where a Georgia resident can purchase cannabis oil for their child because every state has resident clauses, Jackson said.

The Jackson’s also have to contend with another dilemma. Autism is not officially listed as a disorder that can be legally treated with medicinal marijuana in the state of Georgia.

Jackson hopes to get rid of that stumbling block this year.

The long fight

For two years, Jackson, along with Rep. Allen Peake, R- Macon, and hundreds of families from around Georgia have rallied at the state capitol for the legal use of medicinal marijuana for people with certain disorders and to install in-state marijuana cultivation labs.

The group was successful in 2015 when Gov. Nathan Deal signed HB1 – also known as Hayleigh’s Hope Act into law. However, Autism was not listed on the state registry.

In 2016, Jackson, Peake and the families pushed harder to add more disorders – and to provide medical marijuana cultivation labs in Georgia so people would not have to illegally purchase it elsewhere.

Both proposals were nixed with less than 10 minutes on the clock during the last day of the 2016 legislative session.

“I know hundreds and thousands of families in Georgia who still want to try cannabis oil to see if it helps their children (diagnosed with Autism),” stated Jackson. “… Although it is still illegal to even get the oil, they would feel safer trying to obtain it if their children were legally registered with state.”

A new year, a renewed fight

Rep. Peake wasted no time and officially dropped two new proposals to HB1 in the House on Thursday – just four days after the General Assembly convened for 2017.

“We hope to expand the list of conditions that was originally listed with HB1 in 2015 to include Autism and narrow down language that would help people who suffer from some type of uncontrollable pain to also be added to the registry,” Jackson said.

The other proposal will push for a constitutional amendment to be placed on the ballot for 2018. The measure will ask for a more comprehensive medical marijuana program and include some form of regulated in-state cultivation lab.

Jackson explained the strategy behind asking legislators to wait a year.

“We understand right now Gov. Deal is not going to move forward with any sort of legislation including cultivation,” he said. “But if we place the amendment on the ballot in 2018, it would mean a new governor who would hopefully work with families and friends of Allen Peake in putting together a cultivation program.”

But it also means Jackson and other families hoping to be placed on the state’s registry to legally use medicinal marijuana will have to wait another two years for the bill to be passed and take effect.

The sobering reality

Meanwhile, the wait continues for children with disorders like Autism and people suffering from conditions such as Fibromyalgia to legally use cannabis oil in Georgia.

The ability to obtain medicinal marijuana is getting harder too.

With the new changes in administration at the federal level, those people living in states with legal cultivation laws are more nervous and seem unwillingly to help out-of-state folks needing the cannabis oil for loved ones, Jackson said.

“I’m about to run out of oil that was specifically created for Colin,” he said. “I know for certain for many families’ medical marijuana has been the difference between keeping your child at home versus giving them up to state run organizations.

“Personally, cannabis oil is the difference in having my son waking up several times in the middle of the night to sleeping through the night,” Jackson continued. “Or going out to dinner as a family and having to leave because Colin throws a tantrum to him peacefully sitting with us and even feeding himself. It (oil) is the difference of us just surviving.”

The Jackson’s will run out of Colin’s cannabis oil in a couple of months. Jackson said the family does not plan to replenish the medicine after that because of legal concerns.

He worries if Autism is not added to the state registry, his son will regress and all his new achievements will be lost.

But Jackson does not plan to throw in the towel any time soon. He plans on being at the Capitol every week to ensure his son and hundreds of other families get the chance they deserve with plenty of options to live a normal, healthy life.

Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.