While the Republican Party may dominate politics in Georgia, two Athens public officials are taking a somewhat liberal stance when it comes to the use of marijuana.
U.S. Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) showed his support of medical marijuana by introducing the Charlotte’s Web Medical Hemp Act of 2014. The bill, which was brought before the U.S. House of Representatives in July, would essentially decriminalize a compound in marijuana to be used to treat people with severe epilepsy.
But this is not the first time Broun, who represents the 10th congressional district and Athens-Clarke County, has spoken out in favor of medical marijuana.
In May, he co-sponsored an amendment that would prohibit prosecution by the U.S. Department of Justice of people who use medical marijuana in states where the drug is legalized for medicinal purposes.
“It’s less dangerous than some narcotics that doctors prescribe all over this country,” Broun said during a House debate in May.
And Broun is not the only Georgia public official in favor of legalizing medical marijuana.
During reelection campaigning this past spring, Athens Mayor Nancy Denson made her position on the possession and use of marijuana very clear.
“To me medical marijuana is not even a discussion,” she said. “I mean to me it’s just unconscionable that if we’ve got some way to relieve suffering just because it has cannabis attached to it in some way that we wouldn’t do it.”
Denson said if there is a way to help people medically through the use of marijuana, such as the passage of the Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform and Education. Act, it should be used.
“The cannabis plant is not evil by virtue of being cannabis and if there’s some good that can come out of it it’s just, to me, evil to not do it,” Denson said.
The public response Denson received was equally strong, she said.
“There were some people that were really supportive and some people that were really upset about it and they let me know,” Denson said. “But for the most part, I’d run into people and they’d say, ‘You know, I really like the stand that you’ve taken.’”
And Athens resident Rebekah Brannon is one of those people.
“Legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes would be a great way to use it for it’s intended purpose,” she said. “And hopefully people will see that it doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but something that we have to be smart about using.”
Kennya Reyna, a 15-year resident of Athens, said permitting the use of medical marijuana might decrease its illicit use.
“I feel if they could be able to get it legally even if it was just medical that the illegal marijuana sales might actually slow down or become less,” she said.
However, Denson said she is also in favor of simple decriminalization of limited quantities of the drug.
“What I’m very comfortable with is the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana,” she said.
A permanent police record as a result of marijuana use as a young adult should not be something that stays with a person for the rest of their life, Denson said.
“I think a lot of young people have their lives ruined for doing something stupid,” she said.
Denson said younger people like to experiment with things, a trend she saw to be true even when she was younger.
“When I was in school, the real daring thing was girls smoking [tobacco] and I never did try it, but thank goodness I didn’t because I tend to have a little bit of an addictive personality,” Denson said. “I eat too much. I work too hard. When I’m doing something, I go at it 110 percent. If I had ever started smoking I probably would have never quit.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 23 states and the District of Columbia “allow for comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis programs.”
A series of hearings which began Aug. 27 are discussing the legalization of medical marijuana in Georgia through the Georgia CARE Act, which failed to pass last spring. These hearings will continue throughout the year at Mercer University, Georgia Gwinnett College, Georgia Regents University and the state capitol in Atlanta.