ATLANTA Georgia state representative Allen Peake introduced a bill on Tuesday that would legalize a non-psychoactive strain of marijuana strictly limited to patients with severe seizure disorders.
The Republican lawmaker's proposal is similar to legislation introduced recently in Florida and Alabama, while limiting its availability to a handful of medical research facilities.
Peake's interest in the issue was prompted by a constituent's 4-year-old daughter, who suffers from a seizure disorder.
"When I saw her, she reminded me so much of my granddaughter, who is about the same age," said Peake. "It made me realize that if this was my child or my grandchild, I'd be moving heaven and earth to get this legislation passed to provide some hope and relief to these families."
Medical marijuana in various forms is currently legal in 20 states, and at least 10 other states are considering legalizing it, including Florida, Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee, said Erik Altieri, spokesman for the Washington-based pro-marijuana group, NORML.
"Traditionally, this was the realm of Democratic lawmakers. But we're beginning to see a lot more Republicans get behind this issue," he said. "It really seems like finally, legislators are catching up with the will of the people."
None of the 20 states where medical marijuana is currently legally available are in the south, Altieri said.
If the Georgia medical marijuana bill is enacted, patients would not be able to obtain the drug from their corner drugstore, Peake said. The drugs would be dispensed by five university research centers in the state.
Georgia law already allows medical marijuana to be prescribed at medical research facilities for cancer patients and to relieve eye pressure for glaucoma sufferers, though a state board has never been authorized to administer the program, according to Peake.
In Alabama, a bill called Carly's law, initiated to help a toddler with violent seizures was filed in the first days of the 2014 Alabama Legislative session that convened January 14.
The bill, which is still in committee review, also makes it legal to possess a prescribed medical grade extract known as cannabidiol, or CBD, which is non-intoxicating.
Florida lawmakers are also considering legalizing CBD, which has shown promising results for controlling seizures.
The strain is low in TCH, the psychoactive compound that gives users the feeling of being high. The product has no value to traditional marijuana consumers and comes as an oil.
Passage of the bill in Georgia would be tough, said Peake, but added it had the key backing of the Medical Association of Georgia (MAG).
The association's president William Silver told Reuters that MAG supported marijuana use for medicinal purposes in academic settings.
(Writing by David Adams; editing by Gunna Dickson)