Georgia 2018: Williams steps up his embrace of medical marijuana

State Sen. Michael Williams (AJC file)

Republican Michael Williams has aggressively embraced a stalled initiative to dramatically expand the state’s medical marijuana program if he’s elected governor, planning two events this week to tout his support for legislation that would legalize the in-state cultivation of the drug.

The Cumming state senator broke with his GOP rivals at a forum last month in supporting the in-state cultivation of the drug through the state’s program, which permits people with some illnesses to possess cannabis oil but doesn’t allow it to be grown in the state.

But on Monday he elaborated on his position, scheduling talks with the pro-marijuana nonprofit NORML and a rally for veterans suffering from PTSD who could benefit from medical cannabis.

He said his support is “extremely personal” and rooted in his father’s diagnosis with severe bipolar disorder after he served in the Vietnam War. His father committed suicide when Williams was 14, and the senator said he would have likely been diagnosed with PTSD today.

Georgia law allows people suffering from more than a dozen illnesses to register with the state and possess up to 20 ounces of cannabis oil. But because the state doesn’t allow in-state cultivation, families who obtain medical marijuana from other states risk defying federal law for transporting the drug across state lines.

“Legalized in-state cultivation and distribution will ensure safe access for suffering patients,” said Williams. “Until medical cannabis oil is readily available for patients with qualifying conditions, what is the point of legalizing it?”

State Rep. Allen Peake, the leading champion of the state’s medial cannabis program appealed to other Republicans to embrace the issue.

“I’m desperately waiting for a governors candidate on the Republican side who can win who has sincere conviction about this issue, that they really honestly want to help Georgia citizens, not just gain voters by taking a certain position,” said the Macon lawmaker.

Williams is one of four leading Republicans in the race for governor and has staked his candidacy on his outspoken support for President Donald Trump and his efforts to outflank his rivals on the party’s right.

He raffled off a bump stock shortly after authorities said the device was used in the Las Vegas massacre, and he led a protest against a teacher who told a student who was wearing a pro-Trump T-shirt to leave her classroom.