A newly released email exchange between Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), Georgia’s leading medical cannabis supporter, and the office of Gov. Nathan Deal reveals a side of the issue rarely seen in the public eye. And it doesn’t exactly paint the governor in a positive light, despite an influx of friendly press he’s been receiving of late.
Peake was the author of House Bill 722, a bill that would have expanded Georgia’s extremely limited medical marijuana program to include more qualifying medical conditions and a system of in-state cultivation and distribution. The bill gained the support of a House committee, but it ultimately died at the end of the legislative session last week.
The email exchanges between Peake and Deal’s chief of staff, Chris Riley, were obtained through a records request by Chris Hopper of 11Alive News. They offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the politicking that began last November and continued through February of this year.
In an exchange last November, Peake forwarded an email regarding an exploratory trip to Minnesota to study the state’s medical marijuana program. Ryan Teague, Deal’s executive counsel, answered brusquely: “Need to shut down the other trips. Governor not supportive of any further trips on the issue.”
Peake responded in diplomatic fashion:
“Ok, that’s disappointing to hear. I’ll probably go ahead and visit with the folks because I’ve lined everything up, and I’ll just do it on my own dime, and just go solo.”
It wasn’t the first time Peake acted on his own dime. After the 2014 passage of the Haleigh’s Hope Act, which legalized the use and possession of cannabis oil for certain conditions like intractable epilepsy, Peake took pains to ensure that families in need of medicine had access to it. He personally funded trips for multiple families to visit Colorado as part of the Journey of Hope project.
The governor’s office replied one hour later. “Allen, let me be a little more direct than my last email,” wrote Riley, the chief of staff:
“There is no appetite to move any legislation, sign any legislation, or even gather additional information to write legislation on this issue. If you feel the need to continue to pursue this, I am going to need to you to step down as floor leader because I don’t want you to be embarrassed when the Governor states this in a public setting and your [sic] left holding the bag.”
The exchanges with the governor’s office continued through the winter. In February, Peake reached out to Riley and Teague “to see if there was some type of discussion on the medical cannabis cultivation issue that might earn the Governor’s eventual signature, and possibly his support.” Normal, polite political stuff. Courteous. Civil.
It was not taken that way by Chief of Staff Riley, who was apparently offended by the intrusion of Peake and his subject matter into his Sunday morning.
“Happy Sunday,” Riley wrote. “In light of me heading to church and wanting to spend time with my family, listening to the sermon and applying it to my Christian walk, I am going to refrain from responding to the subject of your email until tomorrow.”
Peake responded with characteristic courtesy: “Sounds good. I realize I have made many mistakes, and I have in no way intended to damage my relationship with the Governor, or you guys. But clearly I have, and I fully intend to make that right, if allowed. Look forward to chatting. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.”
The following Tuesday, Feb. 16, Riley got back to Peake. The news was not good.
“As long as this product is a schedule I narcotic at the federal level, we keep running into too many risk [sic],” Riley said. Basically, for Deal, Peake’s bill was a nonstarter as long as cannabis remained a Schedule I drug federally.
Peake continued to push:
“I still strongly believe that a proper regulatory structure can be set up to address the concerns of providing a schedule I narcotic drug to our citizens as medicine. It has been done in 23 other states… I believe our state government is smart enough to find a model that works as well.”
An hour later, Riley’s exasperation came through:
“Allen, We have tried to work with you, we have exhausted every effort to work with you but when you go on public TV and accuse the Governor of not wanting to help the children of Georgia, have social media descend on the Governor with threats by the dozens, you have taken the issue out of our hands and made it an Allen Peake only issue. Therefore, the only position left for the Governor is the law, it is a schedule I narcotic.”
The chance for a medical cannabis system may be over for this legislative session, but the fight to bring medicinal cannabis to Georgia looks to be far from over, thanks largely to a lone lawmaker who refuses to take “no” for an answer.