Legislative countdown begins for local father

Published 6:00 am Friday, March 24, 2017

By Melanie Ruberti


LaGRANGE – The days leading up to the end of Georgia’s legislative session are not filled with fond memories for Dale Jackson.

That was especially true last year. A proposal to add Autism to the medical marijuana registry fell through with less than ten minutes left on the clock on Sine Die, Day 40 – the last day in the state’s legislative session.

Jackson and numerous families who lobbied for the measure hung their heads in disappointment but vowed to renew their fight the following year.

Now Jackson and some of those same families will be present once again in the Senate chambers on Sine Die as legislators vote on the new proposal, SB 16.

“It would be kind of fitting if it (SB 16) is voted on again on Day 40,” Jackson said. “We (Jackson and families) are optimistic and feel like there is more support behind us this year.

“I’m very encouraged,” he added. “To see the House and Senate working together on this proposal has been refreshing … It’s been a little surreal to see three years of effort now written on paper and with a verbal agreement from all parties … it’s been an emotional week. But I still have to remain guarded… its hasn’t come up for a vote yet.”

Jackson’s motivation for passing SB 16 is his son Colin, 8. The little boy has a severe form of Autism that left him unable to speak or perform basic functions like going to the bathroom by himself or tying his shoes.

Colin started taking cannabis oil a year ago. Jackson and his wife, Sarah, have seen vast improvements in their son within those 365 days, including being able to feed himself, making eye contact, regular sleeping habits and more.

If SB 16 passes in both chambers, Colin will be able to continue his daily regimen of medicinal marijuana.

The legislation adds six new disorders to the state’s medical marijuana registry. The conditions are: Autism, AIDS, Alzheimer’s Disease, Peripheral Neuropathy, Tourette’s Syndrome and patients with diseases in hospice care facilities.

“The most important issue is for legislators to leave the disorders in ‘general terms’: cancer, Tourette’s Syndrome, Autism,” Jackson said. “But leave it up to the doctor to decide if their patient’s condition is severe enough to use cannabis oil.”

Under SB 16, doctor’s must also report to the state the strength and dosage of cannabis oil their patients are taking to treat their illnesses.

Unfortunately, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), HIV and autoimmune diseases did not make the list this year.

SB 16 will keep the THC levels in the cannabis oil at 5 percent.

The measure also includes a “reciprocity agreement” which allows people with medical marijuana cards from other states to continue taking the oil while in Georgia as long as they follow state guidelines. But there is a time limit for visitors. After 45 days, patients must either return home or apply for a medical marijuana card in Georgia.

While the discussions surrounding the SB 16 proposal have gone smoothly between House and Senate members this year, Jackson is not ready to celebrate just yet.

The legislation has yet to be added to the House calendar for a vote.

“We were hoping they (legislators) would put it on calendar for Friday or Tuesday,” Jackson explained. “… More than likely it (SB 16) will be voted on Tuesday in House. After the House votes, they will send it back to the Senate to vote ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay.’ Everything hinges around it (SB 16) passing the Senate.”

While the passage of SB 16 will be a huge victory for Jackson and other families, the bill is only a stepping stone in helping more patients have legal access to cannabis oil, he stated.

It is against state and federal laws to bring illegal narcotics across state lines – including cannabis oil. There is also no place in Georgia where patients can purchase medicinal marijuana legally – even if they are approved for a registry card.

Jackson plans to pursue a proposal for the state to add regulated medical marijuana cultivation labs in the 2018 legislative session.

But for now, he will focus all his energies on making sure SB 16 continues to move forward before the clock runs out on Sine Die. Only at the stroke of midnight on March 31 will he hopefully breathe a sigh of relief.

“SB 16 will add a little more peace of mind for my wife,” he said. “In addition, it will help the thousands of moms and dads with Autistic children who have been hesitant to use it. Now, they’ll have a legal opportunity to at least try cannabis oil. I’m excited for those families to see positive results in their children.”

Jackson plans to be standing on the Senate floor next to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle when SB 16 is voted on.

The last day of Georgia’s General Assembly is Thursday, Mar. 30.

Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 770-713-4801, ext. 2156.