Last flurry at Legislature ends without marijuana bill passage

After a unanimous vote for a combined autism and medical marijuana bill Thursday, senators erupted in applause, glad to find a solution for children suffering.

But by the end of the night, the proposal died with the gaveling of the 2014 General Assembly session, after House leaders refused to take up the subjects in a combined form.

“The unfortunate thing is good stuff doesn’t always pass,” Sen. Don Balfour said Friday, summing up the end of the legislative session.

While legislators found some resolution on gun laws, taxes and other proposals, the end of Day 40 once again left some dissatisfied.

“It’s unfortunate, but sometimes things take a few years to pass,” he said.

The medical marijuana provision was the surprise of the session, quickly gaining traction by proposing a cannabis oil use restricted to treat some maladies, include a childhood seizure disorder.

James Bell, an advocate with Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform and Education (CARE), said the failure to pass the bill wasn’t a disappointment, as there were questions about the latest version causing problems with creating a black market. In fact, earlier in the week he sent out a press release saying his organization would turn its focus next year to another proposal written by another Gwinnett senator, Curt Thompson.

“We accomplished a lot this session,” Bell said, adding that he expects the topic to continue to be debated during a study committee hearing this summer.

One of the most high-profile proposals in this year’s session got last-day approval, allowing churches to decide whether they will allow people to carry guns inside. The legislation did not include a controversial proposal to allow people to carry guns on college campuses.

And legislators reached a final agreement on a proposed constitutional amendment that would cap the state income tax.

On Tuesday, Day 39 of the session, House Speaker David Ralston made the vote that gave the resolution the two-thirds vote needed to go on ballots, and on Thursday senators agreed to the House version of the bill.

“If approved by voters this November, Georgia will be the only Southeastern state that constitutionally prohibits income tax increases,” said Duluth’s Sen. David Shafer, the Senate president pro tem who wrote the proposal. “This measure will help Georgia compete, attracting business and encouraging job formation.”

While all of the bills passed by the General Assembly require the governor’s signature before they become laws, the constitutional amendment also requires a voter referendum, which is scheduled for November.