The Georgia State Senate has passed a bill backed by state Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, that aims to expand medical marijuana access in Georgia.

Should Senate Bill 16 be signed into law by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, six more illnesses would be eligible for treatment with medical marijuana. The new illnesses are Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS, autism, epidermolysis bullosa, peripheral neuropathy and Tourette’s syndrome. The bill would also allow use for patients in hospice care.

Gravley has been an advocate for medical marijuana for several years, along with State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon.

“It’s a great victory for us, although we did not get as many diagnoses as we wanted,” said Gravley. “A five-yard or 10-yard gain is better than a five- or 10-yard loss.”

There was also some debate over the maximum amount of THC (the component in marijuana that makes people high) that would be allowed in cannabis oil. Some legislators wanted the maximum amount reduced from 5 percent to 3 percent, but in the end the 5 percent limit remained. Gravley said a 3 percent limit would have rendered the bill ineffective.

With the 2017 session winding down, Gravley is already planning a push for next year to allow cultivation in Georgia, which would require a constitutional amendment.

“We look forward to focusing on a statewide constitutional amendment for in-state cultivation,” said Gravley. “This way families will not have to break federal law to get medication.”

Firefighter cancer bill goes to governor

Gravley scored another win last week when the House voted 166-1 to pass House Bill 146 and send it to Deal’s desk for a signature.

Should Deal sign it into law, the bill will provide extra health insurance for firefighters who contract cancer while on the job. Deal vetoed a similar bill in 2016, but Gravley is confident adjustments made in this year’s version will lead to a signature.

“This has been two years in the making and it was an awesome victory to have such overwhelming support in the Senate,” Gravley said. “We also had buy-in from the Georgia Municipal Association and Association County Commissioners of Georgia. Firefighters were at the table as well to help negotiate the deal.”

The bill was partly inspired by the death of Douglas County firefighter Sgt. Michael Richardson in 2013. Richardson developed cancer after working several years for the local fire department and passed away only a few months after his diagnosis.

HB 146 would require fire departments to provide and maintain adequate insurance coverage for firefighters serving 12 consecutive months, unable to work due to a disabling cancer diagnosis. Because they can be exposed to carcinogens as part of their work, research has found firefighters are more likely than the general public to develop several types of cancer, including testicular, kidney and lung cancer.

Dugan, Boddie team up on ‘sliders’ bill

Who says today’s politicians can’t reach across the aisle?

State Sen. Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, who represents the western portion of Douglas County, is carrying House Bill 67 in the state Senate. The bill was led in the House by Rep. William Boddie, D-East Point, who represents southeast Douglas.

The bill aims to strengthen penalties against criminals who steal vehicles when someone leaves their car to enter a gas station. The slang term for those that commit the crime is “sliders.”

“When we talk about sliders, it’s not the little hamburgers,” said Dugan. “It’s a form of carjacking. A slider is what you’ve seen on the news where somebody has stopped and is getting gas, and someone else hops in the car and takes off. That’s a slider, the street term for that. I’m learning all kinds of slang this year. There wasn’t anything in the code that addressed that. The bill fills in the gap.”

State Rep. Roger Bruce, D-Atlanta, who heads up the Douglas County delegation and was the second signature on the bill, said it’s tough to decide where to draw the line but that the bill is necessary.

“What we’re trying to do is send a message that you can’t commit those types of crimes without consequences,” said Bruce. “It seems like now a lot of people that commit these types of crimes are back on the street in two or three weeks. The intent is to make them understand that repeat offenders are going to be treated differently than first offenders. ... You don’t want to keep crowding jails, but you also don’t want repeat offenders doing harm to people multiple times.”

The 2017 legislative session wraps up March 31.

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