This article was originally published in The Jackson Herald on January 8, 2016

I’m growing marijuana

I’m going to grow a marijuana plant.

That’s probably not legal in Georgia. Our state is rather uptight about pot plants, as if there were something inherently evil about them.

If there is an evil plant, it’s kudzu, not marijuana. I think we should outlaw kudzu and arrest anyone who has it growing on his property.

My pot plant is really something of a civic protest against absurd state policies that prevent children who suffer from seizure disorders from getting help.

There is a chemical found in marijuana plants that appears to help those who suffer from seizures. This cannabis oil isn’t the mind-altering THC that gives pot users a high. It’s another chemical called CBD.

To its credit, the Georgia Legislature passed a bill last year that allows Georgia residents to have 20 oz. of CBD for medical use.

But there’s a problem. There is no way to grow, process and extract the CBD in Georgia. You can’t get that medicine here because state law won’t allow anyone to grow or process pot plants for medical research.

Those who suffer from seizures have to go to another state to get CBD. That requires Georgia residents to become residents of another state to qualify.

It’s a mind-altering legal tangle that snares families in a Catch-22.

Since last year, the state has continued to study medical marijuana. But a commission studying the issue voted not to pursue allowing the pot plants to be grown here for medical study. State law enforcement officials oppose the idea of medical research on marijuana because they believe growing the plant can’t be controlled. Gov. Nathan Deal agrees and is also opposed to growing the evil plant for medical research.

That would be funny if nobody was currently cultivating marijuana in the state. Obviously that’s not the case — Georgia has one of the highest arrest rates for marijuana in the nation. All that weed is coming from somewhere.

Back in the 1970s when I was in high school, a fellow classmate approached me and several others about pooling some money for him to grow pot plants on his family’s extensive farm property in Jackson County. He had all the details worked out with irrigation, etc. The idea was to split the profits following the harvest.

I was broke and didn’t have a dollar for gas, much less an illegal pot scheme. I don’t think my reluctance deterred him. Which is to say, marijuana has been grown in Georgia for decades.

Some of the comments opposing state medical research of marijuana are absurd.

“Cultivation of marijuana is against federal law and as a law enforcement officer I’m not going to support anything that is contrary to federal law, not contrary, just violates federal law,” Georgia Bureau of Investigation director Vernon Keenan said. Keenan was on the study committee and voted “no” in allowing medical research.

But how does one square that view with state leaders who have repeatedly threatened to go against federal law in other matters? Gov. Deal had threatened to violate federal law in not accepting Syrian refugees and backed down only after his own attorney general said he couldn’t do that.

Even last year’s approval by the state allowing possession of CBD technically violates federal law. Bringing in CBD oil across the state line is a federal violation, yet the Georgia Legislature approved a state law that would do just that.

I’ve written about this issue before. It’s personal with me.

I have a son who for 15 years has suffered from potentially deadly seizures that can’t be controlled with conventional medicines.

They weren’t controlled from two devastating brain surgeries.

They aren’t controlled with a medical implant.

He has ended up in the hospital too many times to count.

Compared to many others, my son’s been lucky. He’s had the care of the best epilepsy doctors in the nation. He’s consulted with experts in Boston, Montreal, Detroit, Atlanta and New York. We’ve corresponded with doctors from other countries. He’s tried every one of the drugs currently available for his kind of seizures. He’s been considered for every known available treatment approved in this country.

Still the seizures persist. Sometimes, seizures have put him in an ICU with a tube down his throat and his veins pumped full of powerful drugs in an effort to stop a seizure that threatened to kill him.

I wonder if GBI Director Keenan or Gov. Deal have sat in an ICU by their child’s bedside wondering if he would live or die because a seizure was storming his brain?

I don’t know if some substance from the marijuana plant will help my son. We have been down so many dead-end trails that we long ago stopped expecting a miracle. This, too, may proved to be a false promise.

But even if there is only a slight chance that some chemical from the pot plant can help his suffering, and the suffering of thousands of others, then our society owes it to them to study the possibilities.

How can anyone, especially our state’s top leaders, slam the door on medical research?

And let’s be honest about the politics of this: If a substance in the marijuana plant was thought to be a cure for breast cancer, every legislator in Georgia would put on one of those damn pink ribbons and trip all over himself to vote to allow research to happen.

Epilepsy sufferers don’t have pink ribbons, or the political clout, or the millions of dollars for lobbying, or the votes of Georgia’s women who are concerned about breast cancer.

Epilepsy sufferers are mostly children who don’t vote, children who exist in the shadows of medical research, children who cry for help in silence as the state’s political leaders wring their hands over a fear that allowing medical research of CBD might somehow make them look like they approve of the marijuana.

And so, as a simple act of civil disobedience, I will put the seed of an evil marijuana plant into a pot of dirt. This spring, I will water it and watch it grow on my sunny front porch.

That one plant may not help my son today, but it will keep alive my hope that someday Georgia’s leaders will take off their blinders and allow medical research on a simple green plant that might help him, and others, in the future.