Medical Cannabis May Determine Georgia’s Next Governor

Even though we just had an election a few months ago, the battle to decide the 2018 election is already in high gear. Allen Peake and Casey Cagle are likely to feature very prominently in that race as will the issue of medical cannabis. Careers will be made or broken long before the polls open four years hence. Casey Cagle is the presumptive nominee but it looks like there is a new challenger in the running thanks to medical cannabis legalization in Georgia. It will likely be an epic battle between Casey Cagle and the upstart Allen Peake who became the face of medical cannabis oil. Few outside of Macon knew who Allen Peake was prior to his push for medical cannabis oil and now he is practically in the news every day. His name recognition has skyrocketed.

Many people assume Casey Cagle is the natural choice for governor four years hence. There were rumors that Sam Olens might also throw his hat in the ring, but he has as much charisma as a wet paper bag. Sam is arrogant enough to run but he won’t win.

Allen Peake seems to be building a formidable political machine towards a run in 2018. I do not think Peake is running this media blitz by himself. Allen Peake is all over Twitter, Facebook, newspapers and giving TV interviews.

This has to be the work of a well-organized public relations firm or professional political consultants. No one person could scour the internet daily for obscure articles, have that much free time, or have such a focused and coordinated message without paid assistance and consulting. I am guessing he is getting a lot of help and probably not for free. This machine could easily be transformed from selling the benefits of medical cannabis into selling the idea of Allen Peake for governor.

Casey Cagle defeated Ralph Reed in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor and sent him into political exile back in 2006. Reed is unsuccessfully trying to become relevant again over the religious liberty bill and continues to be as polarizing as ever.  Cagle was the first Republican to hold that office and continues to do so many years later. He just won a re-election to a third term.

Many people mistakenly view a lieutenant governor akin to a vice-president. A governor does not choose his second in command like a vice-president. A lieutenant governor has to win an election all by him or herself. A Lieutenant Governor’s primary job is to serve as President of the Senate which can be a powerful role. As President of the Senate the Lieutenant Governor presides over debate in the Senate and casts a tie-breaking vote in that body if necessary. However, the Lieutenant Governor is barred from sponsoring legislation but with allies and back room brokering that is not really much of a hinderance. If Cagle wants a bill sponsored or pushed in the Senate he can easily get it done.

Cagle is part of the Hall County Political Mafia like Nathan Deal. He is a seventh generation resident of Hall County, Georgia. This county has a lot of people in positions of power or with connections to Gainesville which is the largest city in Hall county. This political mafia extends into nearby Dawson county as well where David Ralston is from. He is the current speaker of the House. It was this group that decided Don Balfour, once chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee,  had to go and sicked their attack dog Sam Olens after him. They didn’t count on the fact that Sam is not a trial attorney so has more bark than bite. Dan Balfour was acquitted but his political career was over. The message sent out was don’t cross the Hall County Mafia so in that respect at least Olens did his job since it ended Balfour’s career in politics.

As early as 2008 Cagle had already thought about running for governor and raised around $1.2 million toward that purpose. In April of 2009 however Cagle withdrew from the governor’s race citing a degenerative spinal condition and other health concerns. He instead chose to run for lieutenant governor and won that race. Not long before that is also when reports began to surface concerning many questionable ethics charges against Congressman Nathan Deal. What a coincidence.

Nathan Deal is not exactly a physically fit specimen and he managed to win and serve his first term. The job of governor is no more physically taxing than that of lieutenant governor so I am skeptical of the reasons for Cagle’s decisions to withdraw.  I suspect there was some backdoor political maneuvering where Georgia’s elite ruling class asked Cagle to wait his turn. Whether this was a polite request with cajoling or more direct with strong-arm tactics, that I cannot answer. My bet was a lot of both.

Nathan Deal, the Godfather of Hall County politics, was close to being brought up on ethics charges in Congress. Then Representative Deal resigned from congress on March 21, 2010 literally minutes before a deadline that would have required the ethics committee to investigate some very serious accusations involving a family salvage business back home in Gainesville. To their credit,  the ethics committee completed the report even though he resigned and therefore was out of their grasp.

Essentially the ethics committee found that Mr. Deal had described his income from the family salvage yard as simply dividends. (meaning that he was a passive and uninvolved business partner) However, his 2008 tax return showed he received $75,000 as wages which exceeded a House rule prohibiting members from receiving more than  $25,830 in outside income.

When Nathan Deal resigned he needed a new job and he decided being Governor was his best bet. I am confident that decision had been made long before March 21 and was probably made a year earlier. Nathan Deal is a survivor and he knew about the ethics investigations and that his time was running out fast.

I am sure pressure was brought to bear on Casey Cagle to step out of the race and make room for the Godfather to step in. I am also confident promises and assurances were made to Cagle that he was the successor to Deal in 2018. They probably pointed out the fact that Cagle was young and Deal was much older as well. Cagle might live to regret his decision to step aside.

Nathan Deal actually finished far behind Karen Handel in the primary. Handel received 231,990 votes or 34.1% and Nathan Deal barely edged out third place candidate Eric Johnson to go to the runoff. Deal received 155,946 votes at 22.9%. Deal managed to edge out Handel in the runoff 50.2% to 49.8% in a very nasty runoff. That is why many Handel supporters continue to refer to him as Dirty Deal.

I do not think that Casey Cagle stepped out of that only because of health concerns. Had Cagle not dropped out of the race it is doubtful Nathan Deal would have had a chance to beat him or even make it to the runoff. It would have almost certainly been Handel and Cagle as the top two in the primary. Nathan Deal’s only path to victory hinged on Cagle dropping out.

Cagle might have also thought Handel was unbeatable or received pressure from her supporters to drop out. That is a possibility but Handel didn’t have a big political machine like the Hall County Mafia behind her so it is less likely. Handel also was viewed as an outsider and unknown quantity by the kingmakers that include people like Don Leeburn Jr. who gravitated towards Deal thanks to his shady ethics record. They saw Deal as someone that would play ball.

Deal was on the ropes from the ethics charges in Congress and was largely unknown outside of Hall County at the time. Handel did her best to educate people about his record but ultimately money from negative attacks ads won out. There is a reason they are called kingmakers. The Board of Regents ultimately has more influence on selecting the Governor of Georgia than voters and Handel scared them with talk of reform.

Few gave Deal any chance to win against Roy Barnes, but pundits underestimated how profoundly the election of Barack Obama and Obamacare would have in the 2010 gubernatorial race. Whatever the reason why Cagle dropped out, it may prove to have been a big mistake. Both Karen Handel and Nathan Deal were likely far easier candidates to beat in 2010 than Allen Peake will be in 2018. Cagle might have missed his best chance to become governor by stepping aside for Deal. Maybe he will take Deal’s old seat in Congress as a consolation prize.

Deal waited until the very last minute to resign from Congress so that he could take one last meaningless vote against Obamacare and used that vote to launch his campaign for Governor. He used Obamacare to bludgeon Roy Barnes and and win the election while the voters forgot all about his dubious ethics charges and poor record in congress as an irrelevant backbencher.

He used this tactic again to defeat Jason Carter even though his record as Governor was abominable. He actually convinced people that Georgia was #1 for business because some obscure magazine printed that dubious assertion. But the AJC reported that the magazine had few subscribers and that “award” was meaningless. Site Selection’s pay-for-play honor cost Georgia taxpayers $134,000 in advertising fees. CNBC also bestowed that same ranking but it too was tainted by donations. The much more respected Forbes never listed Georgia as #1 in business.

Even today they are spreading that lie and recruited Cagle to help reinforce this myth. Repeat a lie often enough and even you will begin to believe it.  The recent $2 billion investment by Apple in Arizona suddenly takes much of the luster off the $74 million investment by Mercedes-Benz. It is a still a nice win for Georgia, but hardly proof we are #1 for business and the AJC seems to agree. Neighboring states are kicking our butts on most metrics as are states further afield like Arizona. Always be skeptical of being #1 in something that is unquantifiable like happiest state, or best BBQ, or #1 in business. I would much rather Georgia be first in rising middle-class income, or lowest unemployment, or best schools. These you can measure.

Casey Cagle has stayed quiet on the subject of medical cannabis which is a huge mistake. Poll after poll suggests that Georgia voters are far ahead of politicians on this issue. 62% support decriminalization. He allowed Allen Peake and now Nathan Deal to control the discussion and all the media spotlight and this will come back to haunt him.

Nathan Deal can afford to be obstinate and irrational because he is too old and frail to ever run again. He is likely only concerned with keeping Novartis and GW Pharma happy at this point. Don’t be surprised if Nathan Deal or one of his family are appointed to these companies in the future. Now that Nathan Deal went from nearly bankrupt to millionaire thanks to Copart he is not really concerned what people think anymore.

Allen Peake has done an admirable job of playing both sides against each other. Let me explain what I mean. To people not that knowledgeable about HB-1 he comes across as a medical crusader and good guy.  People cheer and applaud his efforts loudly as a hero that wants to help sick children. Converts to a cause often get more publicity than people who were right all along it seems. People forget he was a vocal opponent not long ago and still speaks about the dangers of getting “high” like it is any worse than sipping scotch at Idle Hour country club.

Thanks to his vast wealth, he has also been able to to assist some Georgia medical refugee families in Colorado. He started a charity called the Journey of Hope.  I believe he has personally contributed north of $100,000 dollars. That sounds like a lot of money and it certainly is, but remember that he owns Cheddar’s and Captain D’s.  I don’t think he will miss than money terribly much while making millions in profits every year. I don’t say that to diminish his financial support but to point out it is a drop in the bucket.

His charity also isn’t helping the thousands more stuck in Georgia unable to afford to move to Colorado. Many of these people live in the shadows and moving to Colorado is an impossible dream. To help these people a comprehensive medical marijuana bill is needed that will allow them to get the medicine at a price they can afford without a lot of overly restrictive red-tape.

Allen Peake also appeals to the extreme social conservative base opposed to any cannabis reform at all. He has adeptly managed to wear the hat of a law and order prohibitionist even as he also wears the hat of a reformer. This is what I meant by playing both sides against each other. He sells himself as both a reformer and as a bulwark against the inevitable full legalization that includes recreational use. His argument to the conservatives is to pass a restrictive and very limited bill now to stop a far better bill if Democrats gain power in a few years time. This is similar to the move by McKoon and Teasley with their religious liberty bill since they realize same sex marriage is only a few months away.

Peake has campaigned tirelessly explaining that the oil will not get people stoned. He has used some extremely strong language to vouch for his conservative credentials. Here are a few examples where you can see what I mean about taking both sides of the issue and keeping both camps happy.

“I feel very confident that my colleagues want to move forward with a public policy that provides a very tightly restricted, very regulated delivery system for cannabis oil in Georgia,” Peake said, adding he’s aware of 15 families who have left Georgia for Colorado and other states for access to the cannabis oil and three children have died while lawmakers have been debating the issue. “We can’t move fast enough.”

Peake said the ability to prescribe the drug would only be given to five or six doctors and that the security and regulation will be “tighter than prison.”

“While it was initially geared to children with seizure disorders, if it’s a part of the plant that is not going to cause any psychoactive effect on an individual then we ought to allow it to be all citizens have access to it,” Peake said.

“We want to make sure we are sending a clear message that we are not becoming the state of Colorado,” Peake said. “We are not opening Georgia up to a black market of marijuana.”

“It is not a slippery slope toward legalization of cannabis for recreational use,” Peake said. “I stand firmly against that direction and will fight it with all my energy.”

His comment about not wanting to allow a drug with any psychoactive effects is also curious given that this is a very broad term and simply means effecting the user’s brain function. Psychoactive generally fall into three categories: depressants, stimulants, and hallucinogens. This would include a very large range of prescription medications but also notably would include alcohol and tobacco and even coffee. He is correct that it will not get people high unless they choose to use an excessive amount of oil and spend a small fortune to get the same high they could get for $5 worth of pot sold on nearly any street corner in the state. What he fails to say is that we rely and use psychoactive agents every single day. His use of that word is a scare tactic and he should know better. My fear is that he does know better.
Peake came up with a THC limit of 5% very reluctantly after knowledgeable people finally educated him that THC is essential. Before then he would have preferred an even lower level of THC. I am not sure if he ever even uttered THC in a speech until very recently. It is important to understand that opponents of medical cannabis treat THC like plutonium. Certain disorders like pain relief, nausea, and cancer actually will benefit from a far higher percentage of THC  as it works synergistically with cannabidol. For these people 10% to 25% THC seems to be the range where they see the best results. Imagine you have a massive headache. Instead of taking two aspirin as directed you are only given 1/2 of one pill. It might help reduce the headache slightly but will not do nearly as good a job as taking two pills. This is the problem when politicians arbitrarily decide on a number like 5% instead of letting doctors do their jobs. All of these diseases and patients are very different and will require different concentrations of THC and strains of cannabis to work effectively.

Here is the part that really annoys many people far more knowledgeable on this subject. No other medication has any legislation written where politicians get to decide dosages over physicians. Not a single prescription medication has political oversight on dosages or ingredients! It is ill-advised for politicians to try and regulate THC percentages, strains, or delivery methods. Let the doctors and patients decide what works best for them and not politicians. HB-1 also completely ignores tinctures, gums, topicals, edibles, vaporizers, and many promising new delivery methods and focuses solely on the oil. Click here to read about the various strains and how they differ. Oil is a great product but so are other products.

The important point I want to emphasize is not one size fits all and HB-1 is overly restrictive when it includes only an oil limited to 5% THC. Patients and doctors are the ones that should find out what works best for them not politicians. I am sure you have heard the expression it is better to have half a loaf of bread than nothing. HB-1 is like have a single piece of bread to feed a family of four. Is it better than starving? Yes but with all these restrictions not by much. Georgia still has a long way to go to bring relief to people in need even if HB-1 passes “as is”.

THC has proven medical benefits and individuals who can benefit from strains that include high percentages of THC should not be forgotten when legislators debate medical marijuana bills. Nor should legislators be concerned about the delivery methods. I do not understand why Allen Peake is insistent on a low THC oil when a higher THC strain smoked or vaporized would allow faster and better relief for many people.

The oil might work miracles on epileptic seizures but a high THC strain vaped will also work miracles for pain or nausea where the oil fails.  This is not my opinion this is what patients and doctors are reporting. Shouldn’t they be the ones to decide what works for them and not politicians under the Gold Dome? Advances are happening daily and HB-1 will not allow Georgia to keep up. We need a more future-proof bill.

I want to make it perfectly clear that I strongly believe Allen Peake to be 100% sincere in his desire to help those families with children with epileptic seizures. He seems to be a genuinely nice and caring man that had a 180 degree shift in thinking from only a short time ago. I applaud his transformation on this issue from a prohibitionist to advocate. It was a major shift. But I also think it is important to recognize people that have been fighting for legalization for decades as well. A Johnny-Come-Lately that says he want to keep security tighter than prison may not be the best person to lead this fight. Georgia desperately needs Republican politicians with more moderate views based on science and data to step forward. 

Peake’s evolution on this issue and acceptance that cannabis can also help other illnesses (like Multiple Sclerosis, Chron’s Disease, Mitochondrial disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Muscle spasticity disorder, Fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease) came about very slowly and after meeting with the families. Only a year ago Allen Peake’s views were not all that different from the Georgia Sheriff’s Association or Nathan Deal. Two years ago he was a firm prohibitionist and even today hints of those fears slip out at times when he says he will fight just as hard to prevent recreational use as he has fought for the medicinal CBD oil. What he never explains is why he feels that way. Why does being stoned frighten him so much while being drunk or high from pain meds is perfectly acceptable?

I do not doubt for a second that Allen Peake sincerely wants to help Haleigh Cox and many others. But I would also be remiss as a journalist and political analyst if I did not point out the potential political windfall to higher office. Unlike Casey Cagle, Allen Peake doesn’t need any outside financing to run for governor. He could easily pay for his campaign alone if he wished. He is not beholden to people like Don Leeburn or other Georgia kingmakers. I am sure he would not turn down donations but he doesn’t need them. Michael Bloomberg, Mitt Romney, and Rick Scott are just a few examples of what rich men can do when they decide to become a governor or mayor.

Cagle would also be terrified of Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino billionaire, who spends millions fighting medical cannabis. Allen Peake is not nearly as wealthy as Adelson, but he is rich enough not to worry about him either. Peake is a local guy with conservative credibility and Adelson would likely have a far harder time fighting Peake on this issue. Also, because HB-1 is already so restrictive it probably meets with Adelson’s approval.

When Nathan Deal pulled the rug from under Allen Peake with the announcement about no in-state growing, it threw him for a bit of a loop. Many up until that point thought Peake and Deal were on the same page and allies. They weren’t. Nathan Deal will always look after Nathan Deal first. Maybe this also woke Allen Peake up to the reality that Deal is trying to undermine him to make good on the promise to hand Cagle the reigns in 2018. The Hall County mafia are not eager to have an outsider in the governor’s mansion, especially someone from Macon, GA with no loyalty to the North Georgia coalitions. The fact that Peake doesn’t need their money also scares the bejesus out of them because that means they have less influence.

Peake took his lumps from that meeting where Deal taught him who is boss but still tried to sell a very crippled bill as a major victory to the public. He wrote editorials and had them published in newspapers across the state. He actually did a good job at deflecting criticism towards Nathan Deal and away from himself so maybe he is wising up a bit.  He got off fairly unscathed by the mostly clueless masses, but those in-the-know knew better.

The loss of in-state growing was a major setback. Allen Peake went into that meeting unprepared for a fight and without a bill in his hand explaining how in-state growing would be handled. He assumed Deal was supportive since that is what Deal had been saying for a while. There were few specifics and Nathan Deal pounced on his unpreparedness. With that one decision he threw Cagle a bone and also weakened Peake and HB-1 tremendously. Deal pulled the brakes on meaningful legislation in 2015 and gave GW Pharma more time to get Epidolex ready.

Nathan Deal was not content with just killing in-state growing. In a coordinated attack from the Georgia Sheriff’s right out of the Dick Cheney playbook. You might remember Cheney leaked misinformation about Sadam Hussein’s WMD’s to the New York Times then used that article to push for the invasion of Iraq based off his own leak. There never was any evidence of WMD’s, it was a ruse to invade. Classic Cheney and the media fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

Deal and his allies are now trying to remove many more illnesses from the list. I do not think Allen Peake will be able to back down again without losing all his credibility. Deal is hollowing out HB-1 to the point that it is really not much better than the status quo. What good is a bill if you can’t get the oil in-state, can’t be assured of the quality, can’t get a prescription because your illness was not approved by politicians, and can’t afford it because of the price?

People are already suspicious after Peake caved the first time on in-state growing without putting up a fight. If he caves again he is toast. He has to fight to keep all those illnesses in the bill or simply allow doctors to decide.  Deal has already humiliated him once and the removal of even one illness  would be devastating to those people and also to Allen Peake’s gubernatorial ambitions. Deal has pushed Peake into a corner and he will either come out fighting or fold like a wet noodle. If he folds again I am not sure the public will be so forgiving a second time. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

I am not really sure if someone like Allen Peake who is trying to play both sides was the best person to lead this fight in the first place. In fact I am pretty sure he isn’t after reading many of his comments above. The senate bill by Kurt Thomson known as SB-6 and SB-7 are far closer to what voters in Georgia actually want. But since Thomson is a Democrat they have tried to keep the focus on the Republican House bill instead.

The families of the medical refugees are reluctant to criticize Allen Peake because he is a really nice man and has helped them financially and also is their friend. I can certainly understand their difficult position. They are caught between a rock and a hard place. They simply want some help and options for their loved ones and they are hoping HB-1 will be the fastest way to get that help. No one can blame them for their unwavering support for Allen Peake even if they are upset that it is not as expansive as they had hoped.

If Casey Cagle is smart, he will realize that all those promises the Hall County Mafia made about him being the next governor will be hard to keep. He doesn’t owe Deal any loyalty if he can’t deliver on his promises. They didn’t count on an outsider like Allen Peake either back in 2010 to rise to such prominence so quickly over one issue. Cagle needs to make some big adjustments and fast.

Cagle needs to speak up more passionately to support medical cannabis that includes in-state growing. He needs to do this because it is the right thing to do first and foremost. But also if he hopes to have a chance in 2018 he needs to carve out a position left of Peake which is not hard to do since Peake is so far to the right of most in Georgia. Peake is far more conservative with his views than the people of Georgia and the media won’t stay stupid forever. Eventually even the lazy media who have been lapping up Peake’s pro-cannabis positions will eventually cotton on to the fact that HB-1 is actually the most restrictive bill in the country that leaves much to be desired.

Cagle needs to distance himself from both Nathan Deal and Allen Peake on this issue and find a voice. He also could point out if GW Pharma wants to spend $8 million in testing they can pay for it themselves. Why should Georgia taxpayers foot the bills for pharmaceutical research?

Casey Cagle hasn’t really said much at all so I am not sure what his views are on medical cannabis. Right now he is allowing Allen Peake to control the debate. People respect boldness and leadership so I am not sure if he understands that he is beginning to make himself look insignificant and obsolete by remaining silent on the sidelines.

A bold move by Cagle towards a more popular position would expose HB-1 as a very limited and bad compromise. No in-state growing was bad enough, but for politicians to try and pick and choose which sick people can get help is shameful. Nathan Deal and even Allen Peake are out of touch with what Georgia wants and is demanding. The problem for SB-6 and SB-7 is so few people know about them but Cagle could change that quickly.

If Cagle were to work with Kurt Thomson that would  be a game changer. The senate bills offer everything in HB-1 plus a whole lot more flexibility and options. Georgia may still be a red state,  but it is getting more purple by the day. The oil will be very expensive and not covered by insurance. Plants and in-state growing with numerous sources would be the only viable option for many families living paycheck to paycheck. The cost of Charlotte’s Web ranges up to $600 per month depending on dosage level and patient weight for example and Epidolex by GW Pharma could potentially cost far more than that if it gets FDA approval. What good is a CBD oil if you can’t afford it?

The very definition of conservative is someone afraid of change or rocking the boat. Voters are far ahead of politicians in Georgia and are waiting for someone to represent their views and show some courage. This is not a Democrat or Republican issue and you see people on the extreme right from the Tea Party supporting legalization just as strongly as people on the far left.

They said only Richard Nixon could go to China because of his impeccable conservative credentials at the time and even decades later that expression is still in use. People like Allen Peake who are extremely conservative are important to help win this fight but I am not sure they are the ones best suited to lead it either. There is a real opening and an opportunity for a Republican to step up and challenge Deal on his views and fight for a better bill like SB-7.

Allen Peake understood the importance of this fight and has used this issue to gain statewide name recognition. As I wrote earlier I believe his motives to help the families is genuine. But I also do not for a second think he didn’t realize this was a great way to kill two birds with one stone. There is no harm in helping sick people and also building up your name for a future election. I don’t begrudge his gubernatorial ambitions but I wish he would loosen up on all his anti-THC hype. People dying of cancer or in extreme pain should be able to decide if they want to feel stoned or not.

If Casey Cagle has any ambitions to become governor in 2018, he needs to join the fight to end prohibition in Georgia and get off the sidelines. If he doesn’t step up to the plate soon Allen Peake will be a juggernaut in 2018. An even better incentive would be because he wants to help the thousands in Georgia that would benefit from medical cannabis. But when it comes to politicians it never hurts to have more than one motive to make them get off the fence and find a backbone.

If Cagle and Peake end up fighting to see who can bring relief to the most amount of people in the fastest amount of time it is a win-win for all of us. If Cagle decides to support Nathan Deal or to continue to play coy he will hand Allen Peake the election. Your move Casey, are you in or out?

 

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