HALEIGH’S HOPE ACT
On April 16, 2015, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed a bill legalizing low-THC cannabis oil to treat specific medical conditions, including epilepsy, end-stage ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, and cancer. THC is the primary psychoactive substance in marijuana, and is the chemical that makes people feel “high.” In addition to legalizing medical marijuana the bill promises to create an infrastructure, registration process, and research program for the cannabis oil.
“Haleigh’s Hope Act” gets its name from five-year-old Haleigh Cox, who was suffering hundreds of seizures a day. Traditional anti-seizure medications were not working, so her family decided to move to Colorado in order to try treatment with medical marijuana, where it was legal. Haleigh started treatment with cannabis oil in 2014, and is now thriving, healthy and happy. Now that the cannabis oil is legal in Georgia, Haleigh and her family will once again be able to live in their home state. Haleigh was issued the first medical marijuana card in Georgia.
USES OF MEDICAL MARIJUANA
The complex makeup of marijuana–there are 400 individual chemicals–and its controversial legal status has led to a dearth of research on its potential beneficial uses. However, the known uses for medical marijuana so far include the following: (1) marijuana can help with neuropathic pain, and is less habit-forming than opiates; (2) marijuana can treat the muscle spasms associated with Multiple Sclerosis; (3) marijuana is effective against nausea, and can help induce an appetite in people suffering from AIDS or undergoing chemotherapy; (4) new research is showing that cannabis has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties, and can be useful in treating concussions and TBIs; (5) studies in rats show that marijuana helps to stave off memory problems and changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease; (6) marijuana may also be helpful in stabilizing the brain of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder; and (7) “Charlotte’s Web,” a cannabis strain grown in Colorado that dramatically reduces epileptic seizures in some children, is taken as an oil that is high in a chemical called CBD but low in THC, the chemical inducing the “high” associated with marijuana.
As the above list suggests, the medical uses of marijuana are wide-ranging and have only begun to be discovered. Advocates are hopeful that increased legalization will lead to more research and new medical uses for marijuana’s still untapped potential.
THE LEGAL CONTROVERSY
While medicinal marijuana is now legal according to state law in Georgia, the cannabis oil used to treat Haleigh’s epileptic seizures is still illegal under federal law. Despite twenty-five states legalizing medical marijuana, including four states and D. C. legalizing recreational use of marijuana by the end of 2015, any use of marijuana is still illegal under federal law. While President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have stated that medical marijuana is not a law enforcement priority and have advised federal prosecutors to use their prosecutorial discretion, state-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries and their workers may still be at risk of federal prosecution even if they are in compliance with relevant state laws. It remains to be seen whether a medical marijuana card such as the one issued to Haleigh Cox last week would constitute a valid defense against a federal prosecution involving marijuana.