Jack Bernard is a retired healthcare SVP and nationally published columnist. He was the Chairman of the Republican Party and County Commission in Jasper County.

“Make any popular soft drink illegal and it will become a ‘gateway drug.’ Narcotic addicts do not start with marijuana, they start with milk!”
~ Dr. Doug Skelton, Chancellor of Trinity Medical Sciences University

Not surprisingly, 62 percent of the American public believes marijuana should be legalized (Pew, 10-10-18). The figure is even higher for Millennials at 74 percent. It will eventually be legalized nationally, period.
Let’s be clear, that is not the point of this column. I am only addressing medical use.
Most Georgians that I have spoken with, conservatives included, believe that marijuana should be legally available for approved medical use. Widespread acceptance is why in early 2015 our legislature approved, and our Governor signed, “Haleigh’s Hope Act” legalizing up to 20 ounces of infused cannabis oils for patients having specific diagnoses such as: Autism, Cancer, Crohn’s, and Parkinson’s.
Illogical though it may be, our legislature did not provide for any way for these sick individuals to access it. They are prohibited by state law from growing it and by Federal law from importing it. There are no licensed dispensaries, and hardly any MDs will prescribe it due to fear. Crazy, right?
Our national and state governmental policies toward cannabis have been irrational from the start. It’s Class I classification by the Federal government makes no sense.
Per Dr. Doug Skelton, a respected psychiatrist who was once over all of the State of Georgia’s mental health and substance abuse programs, “As a ‘dangerous drug’ it has resulted in thousands of needless arrests and even seven-year sentences for college students who sold some to a friend. It is a ‘gateway drug’ solely because it is illegal.”
In 2015, there were over 640,000 arrests nationwide related to cannabis. Further, penalties are severe. In our own state, cultivation of less than 10 pounds can get you up to 10 years. No wonder our costly prisons are overcrowded.
We have put cancer patients, autistic children, and their parents and others in one heck of a position. Break the law and risk substantial jail time or don’t use cannabis to treat your disease, even though it’s technically legal for medical use in Georgia and has been for three years.
It is unconscionable that our legislature has not fixed the problem. Conservatives appear especially reticent to come up with practical solutions.
For example, take my own State Senator, Marty Harbin (R- District 16). His clearly evasive position is that the state needs to form a medical commission to evaluate medical marijuana and the Feds must first reclassify it from Class I to Class II.
When slippery politicians don’t want to make a politically delicate decision, they just form study groups to endlessly look at issues that have been studied to death elsewhere. These swamp creatures kick the problem somewhere else, to the Feds in this case
In other words, Harbin is refusing to endorse rational legislation which would permit cultivation and legal dispensing of medical cannabis, despite the Haleigh’s Hope Act. He just doesn’t want to clearly say so because it might hurt him politically. What happened to conservatives believing in states’ rights and individual freedom?
His opposition in this election, Bill Lightle, has come out strongly in favor of legalization of controlled medical marijuana growth and dispensing in Georgia. The difference in their positions is stark; one is honest, the other evasive.
On a more personal level, I would encourage each reader of this column to go on YouTube ([btn type=”default or primary or success or info or warning or danger or link” link=”https://youtu.be/_H2JL9YGUa8″]here[/btn]) to hear the testimony of Jennifer Conforti, the compassionate mother of an autistic child, speaking to a Georgia House Committee. Her three-year-old, Abby, had uncontrollable rages, hurting herself. A few years later, Abby is now doing well on cannabis and her frightening episodes have abated. However, Jennifer, a typical caring suburban mother, has had to obtain the cannabis illegally.
Sen. Harbin said to Jennifer in a one-on-one conversation, “If my child were dealing with the issues yours is, I’d do the same thing you are doing. I’d break the law and do anything to help my child. I applaud you.”
Senator, that is just not right. Be a compassionate person, not a slippery politician. Jennifer’s daughter does not need your empty words, she needs action.
Please, before casting your vote for your Georgia House Representative or Senate Senator, learn their position on medical marijuana cultivation and dispensing. It may be your child, spouse, father or mother who end up needing cannabis next time.