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After months of study, Georgia lawmakers look ahead to medical marijuana bills for 2015

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ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers revisited a divisive argument over legalizing medical marijuana on Wednesday, as parents pleaded for something to help children with seizure disorders and representatives of law enforcement and conservative groups warned of unintended consequences.

Members of a study committee met for the final time on Wednesday in Atlanta, with some lining up behind different proposals on the issue that will arise again in the 2015 legislative session that begins in January.

Republican Rep. Allen Peake, who spearheaded last session's failed effort to pass a bill aimed at helping children with seizure disorders, pre-filed a bill last month to allow limited use of medical cannabis in Georgia. Peake said he expects to have a draft bill by Christmas, or at the latest by the Jan. 12 start to the session.

He has said the bill will allow a limited number of businesses to get a state license to grow and process marijuana to provide cannabis oil to people with certain medical conditions under tight regulations. Peake has said he also wants to limit the amount of the tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, compound that makes users feel a high.

"We must act now," Peake told committee members, after listing the names of children whose parents have lobbied for a medical marijuana law.

Democratic state Sen. Curt Thompson separately filed a bill allowing broader use of medical marijuana, including licensing some patients to grow plants, and a resolution to amend the state Constitution and legalize the drug in limited amounts for people older than 21. Thompson told committee members that Georgia lawmakers should consider people with serious illnesses who need treatment.

"I hope we take what we've learned and put that to use," he said.

Opposition has come from a variety of circles during the hearings, including the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia. Executive Director Chuck Spahos said no one wants to prosecute a family looking to help their sick child, but law enforcement officials have concerns about federal law that classifies marijuana as an illegal drug.

"We don't want to stand in the way of oil being available for treatment, but we can't disregard federal law," he said.

After last session's bill failed over unrelated legislation, Gov. Nathan Deal announced a clinical trial partnership between Georgia Regents University and a pharmaceutical company. University officials have said they have some federal approvals and hope to begin accepting patients soon.

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