Even while the majority of Georgia residents stood in favor of legislation to establish a cultivation and distribution system that would prevent the state’s registered medical marijuana patients from engaging in drug trafficking, a new report shows that Governor Nathan Deal had doomed the concept of growing weed on Georgia soil long before the bill ever had a chance to be slaughtered in the state legislature.
An internal email trail between Governor Deal’s office and Representative Allen Peake, the lawmaker responsible for introducing the cultivation proposal, reveals that ever since Georgia officials got back from a Colorado fact-finding mission in November 2015, the fix has been in to ensure a medical marijuana expansion plan never sees the light of day.
The emails obtained by 11Alive’s Chris Hopper show that Governor Deal’s cronies, which included leading law enforcement officials, apparently did such a good job slandering the Colorado cannabis market — calling it a “mess” and a “nightmare” — that Deal had already made the decision never to allow weed to be cultivated in the state by the middle of last November.
In fact, the emails show that when Representative Peake made an effort to schedule future visits to additional medical marijuana communalities, the governor’s chief of staff, Chris Riley advised him to “shut down the other trips” because the governor did not support any further exploration on the issue.
With the understanding that law enforcement may have swooped in to sabotage the future of medical marijuana in Georgia, Peake responded to Riley’s email by suggesting he would take the trip on his own dime, and that he hoped the Governor would not “let law enforcement’s fear stop us from doing something good for our citizens.”
On November 17, 2015, the morning after Peake’s reply was sent, the Governor’s office fired back a second message in order to be “more direct” about its unwillingness to entertain a medical marijuana cultivation bill in the 2016 legislative session.
“There is no appetite to move any legislation, sign any legislation, or even gather additional information to write legislation on this issue,” Riley wrote. “If you feel the need to continue to pursue this, I am going to need you to step down as a floor leader because I don’t want you to be embarrassed when the governor states this in a public setting and you’re left holding the bag.”
Interestingly, the emails show that Governor Deal had already decided against the future of Georgia’s medical marijuana program nearly a month before a special committee that he appointed to guide him on the cultivation issue completed its final discussion. The day before the Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis held its last meeting, however, Governor Deal suggested, in the media, that the potential for a functional medical marijuana program was not likely to happen in the near future because he didn’t believe the state had the “ability to control something of that nature.”
On month later, at the turn of the New Year, Representative Peake submitted House Bill 722, which would have allowed a handful of cultivation centers and dispensaries to operate in the state. As it stands, any patient suffering from cancer or epilepsy can qualify to be registered by the state to legally possess a specific amount of non-intoxicating cannabis oil. However, in order to get their hands on this medicine, these patients are forced to smuggle in the oil from a legal state, a criminal action in the eyes of the federal government that often leads to felony drug trafficking charges and prison time.
This legal conundrum was the basis for Peake’s most recent proposal seeking to establish a tightly regulated system that would enable Georgia patients to have access to cannabis products without breaking federal law. But even without the recent revelation of the Governor’s ultimate intent on this issue, the Georgia Sheriffs Association was undeniably hell bent on stopping the bill at any cost. Several members of the GSA testified against the bill over the course of the legislative session over concerns that it would transform the state into a legion of drug addicts and rotten criminals.
By the time it was all said and done, Peake had removed the cultivation aspect out of his bill, hoping to meet the opposition in the middle by making drug traffickers out of even more Georgia patients by simply expanding the list of qualified conditions. Yet even this stripped down version of the bill wasn’t able to withstand the wrath of Southern legislators – the Senate killed House Bill 722 before the end of the session.
A statement issued by the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Jen Talaber, which was also obtained by 11Alive, suggests that Representative Peake drafted his medical marijuana expansion bill, even after it was made absolutely clear that the Governor had no interest of allowing the state to get into the business of growing weed.
“For more than two years now, the governor has repeatedly said that Georgia would not become Colorado,” Talaber said. “He expressed those concerns both publicly and privately to media, legislators and other stakeholders. Further, there was no existing legislation at the time of these conversations, just discussion surrounding the issue.”
In December, a statewide poll found 84 percent of Georgia residents supported Peake’s plan to expand the medical marijuana law.