Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Now, the legal use of the drug for medical purposes is being considered in what many would consider the most unlikely of places: the Deep South.
State lawmakers, some from the Republican Party, in Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana are supporting bills that would allow limited use of cannabis oil for some medical conditions.
Cannabis oil is a substance derived from the marijuana plant that is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive element in marijuana. The oils have been shown to help those, even children, who suffer from severe seizures. They are taken orally.
In Georgia, Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, has backed a bill that would fund old legislation allowing for the research of the drug’s efficacy for specific conditions.
"I'm an unlikely champion for this cause,” Peake said. ”Once people realize it's not a 6-year-old smoking a joint, most folks realize this is the compassionate thing to do.”
State Rep. Mike Ball has sponsored a bill in Alabama that would allow people to possess cannabis oil if they have approved medical conditions.
Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana has also recently said that he would be open to certain types of legalization legislation.
"When it comes to medical marijuana ... if there is a legitimate medical need, I'd certainly be open to making it available under very strict supervision for patients that would benefit from that,” Jindal said.
Georgia and Louisiana have medical marijuana laws already on their books, point out proponents of the new laws. Those regulations were put in place to help patients suffering from glaucoma, cancer and HIV but are seldom used because there is currently not a national supply of legal medical marijuana.
There are opponents to loosening restrictions on the use of the controversial drug. In Louisiana, Caddo Parrish District Attorney Charles R. Scott weighed in, telling lawmakers, ”Please think very carefully before you amend the current provisions. You have to conclude that marijuana, that THC, has some very bad characteristics. We do not need in Louisiana our workforce to be impaired any further.”
Supportive lawmakers argue that such fears are not justified.
"I am concerned as anyone that we would get to a slippery slope of a broader scope of marijuana use in the state," Peake said of Georgia. "I promise you I will fight that with every bit of energy in me.”