Allen Peake is a man on a mission. The five-term Republican state representative from Macon is the driving force behind proposed legislation to legalize medical marijuana in Georgia.
He may succeed this year after suffering a setback in 2014 when the House and Senate got into a bit of political brinksmanship at the last minute and failed to pass his bill, which had sailed through the House with only four negative votes.
Undaunted, Peake is back again with H.B. 1.
He has the support of Gov. Nathan Deal (albeit with a few conditions) and House Speaker David Ralston. And with a recent media poll showing 84 percent of Georgians favor passage of medical marijuana legislation, I suspect he has the Senate's attention, as well.
I have been around the political block more than a few times and I can quickly discern public pandering from genuine passion. Peake is passionate about this issue. Deeply passionate.
I asked him how he became involved. He said a mutual friend called him at the beginning of the legislative session last year and asked him to talk to a friend of hers whose 4-year-old daughter was having as many as 200 seizures a day. The mother was going to have to take her daughter to Colorado where a derivative of marijuana seems to have an impact on seizure disorders.
"I told her to have her friend email me which she did," he said. "When I heard from the mother, I politely suggested she contact her own state representative. She wrote back and said, ‘I did. You are my state representative.'" Touché.
Peake then met little Haleigh Cox.
"It was the first week of the session," he remembers, "and she was in the hospital in ICU. That's when it hit me. I have a 4-year-old granddaughter. I would crawl over broken glass to do whatever it took for her to have access to the medicine she needed."
For Haleigh, that medicine is cannabis oil, derived from the marijuana plant, but which doesn't create the high that recreational users seek.
In order to get access to cannabis oil treatment, families have to split up with the mother and child moving out of state and leaving loved ones behind. It's disruptive, traumatic, expensive and, Peake said: "It's crazy. Why are we forcing Georgia families to have to do this? That is what set me on a mission. I didn't care what it took or what it cost me politically, I was determined that we were going to pass legislation that would keep families from being torn apart and that would provide some relief and hope for these children. So off we went."
Did he ever.
In addition to his legislative efforts, Peake established Journey for Hope, a charitable fund to provide financial assistance for those families.
"It takes about $15,000 per family for moving expenses plus six months of rent," he says, "and we have already moved 12 families to Colorado."
There are still some hurdles to overcome this session if Peake's bill is to pass.
Deal wants a committee established to recommend how cannabis oil would be produced and distributed in Georgia and the findings presented to the General Assembly by the end of the year.
Peake says he is OK with that.
If H.B. 1 becomes law, the measure would ensure decriminalization immediately for Georgia families seeking medical cannabis. They would be able to go to another state to legally obtain the medicine and then come back home without fear of being prosecuted.
"Families now in Colorado will be able to come home immediately," Peake said. "They will likely have to go back every three to six months for the next year-and-a-half to pick up medicine, but they will be protected in Georgia for possession." Not having to underwrite living expenses in Colorado would mean Journey of Hope would be able to assist even more families financially in the future.
By the way, does the treatment work? Peake says children who have suffered 150-200 seizures a day are experiencing as little as one a day and sometimes will go a week without a seizure once they have access to the medicine.
Since Rep. Allen Peake began his effort to legalize medical marijuana, three children who were at the Capitol last year with their families to lobby for passage of his bill have died. "I won't stand by and let that continue to happen," he says quietly.
I believe him. The man is on a mission.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at email@example.com; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb.