Interviewed by: Cassandra Valdez
Written by: James Alexander
Senator Matt Brass is a people’s champion. As a Senator in the state of Georgia, Matt Brass was instrumental in shepherding a bill that would allow the distribution and selling of medical cannabis in Georgia. Though low-THC oil has been legal for certain conditions since 2015, it was still difficult for Georgians to obtain it. Matt Brass set out to change all that.
We caught up with Senator Matt Brass to dive into his stance on medical cannabis and why he champions the medicine for families throughout the state.
Treevana: Senator Brass. Thank you so much, first and foremost for taking time out of your schedule to come and meet with us today to answer a few questions about your role in medical cannabis here in Georgia.
Senator Matt Brass: Thanks for having me.
Treevana: You have served in the Georgia state senate from the 28th district since 2017. With so many politicians openly critical of legalizing medical cannabis, what made you throw your political support behind the movement?
Senator Matt Brass: Well, first and foremost, it’s meeting with kids that have one or more of the listed diagnoses. Coming into 2017, we had a law in place for specific conditions but no legal way for these kids to get access. After meeting a few constituents and their children who were suffering from these conditions, my heart just went out to them. It became straightforward: supporting these people is the right thing to do. So I was all in.
My sister and brother-in-law have a friend over in Macon who suffers from a condition, so they reached out to me because I worked for US congressman Lynn Westmoreland. At the time, I felt like it was more of a state issue, so I put her in touch with her state representative and her state senator. Representative Allen Peake is a true champion at the legislature for this cause, and once those two were connected, Allen just dove right in. He has blazed a trail for politicians like myself who are coming around to seeing medical cannabis for what it truly is: medicine.
Treevana: Can you tell us a little bit about your experience as co-chair of the Joint Study Commission on Low THC Medical Oil Access and how you came to hold that position?
Senator Matt Brass: 2018 was when we set up the commission. I was the champion on the senate side, working with Representative Peake and Representative Gravley, coming up with a strategy for how we were going to push these initiatives through. We’d exhausted the study committee. We wanted to do something that was going to have substance because if Georgia was going to move forward with a medical marijuana law we needed to look at other states and see what they were doing to figure out what was the best fit for the state of Georgia.
In getting that setup, Casey Cagle, Lieutenant Governor at the time, called me after the session and said, “Do you wanna serve on the commission?” I said no, and recommended Dale Jackson, but Casey informed me what they were already considering Dale for a chair there and pressed again for me to co-chair from the senate side. So, of course, I agreed. The experience itself was phenomenal. You meet parents and children who are in need. You meet more people in general. You hear their testimony, and it’s kind of a motivator, for me at least. Hearing these heartbreaking stories, understanding the need, and knowing we can provide this medicine to these people. You see, we’ve just got to get the government majority on the side of the people who are hurting.
It was a great experience. It was educational. Working with Representative Gravley was great. We were a real dream team. We put a strategy together, decided what we were looking at, how we were going to tackle it, and then we relied on that strategy through to the passing of HB324.
Treevana: Would you tell us a little bit about your experience carrying the bill through the Georgia senate?
Senator Matt Brass: It was a heavy lift. In the past, the senate had a firmer stance against medicinal cannabis than the house. There were more roadblocks and opposition over there. It was tough because I felt like my job wasn’t necessarily to get the policy through as much as it was to educate the state senate on what we were trying to do and working hard to get rid of the stigma.
I was taking all the knowledge that I obtained through the years from the study commission and used that knowledge to support our position. It was hard because I butted heads with friends who stood against this particular legislation, but you know, we’re professionals. I don’t think there were any hard feelings. In many cases, we all came out stronger ’cause anytime you can survive a battle like that, it’s kind of a testament to who we’re working alongside. There are a lot of good people in our state government despite what you see in the news outlets—good people who serve both sides of the aisle.
Treevana: On April 17th, 2019, house bill 324, also known as Georgia’s Hope Act, was signed into law, allowing patients to access medical cannabis oil. What changes have you seen across the state since the bill’s inception?
Senator Matt Brass: Well, I think from a perception standpoint, we’ve seen a change in the way people view medical cannabis. People that were once opposed to it say, “Okay. Now I see the benefits. I get it. I agree with you.” So, from a statewide standpoint, the education’s better.
Treevana: What would you say to your political colleagues who are still in opposition to medical cannabis?
Senator Matt Brass: Well, I’d probably say the same thing I’ve been saying all along. You can’t let the fear of doing the wrong thing get in the way of doing what’s right. You hear a mother that says their child was having 80 seizures a day who took the medicine and then, all of a sudden, the child is down to one seizure a week. It’s hard to argue that that’s not a medicine.
Many argue that this is going to be a stepping stone for recreational use, so we looked at recreational states and determined that states that went recreational came out of the gate with smokable cannabis for medicinal purposes. We don’t do that in this state. We also haven’t let the list of diagnoses get entirely out of control. We put a stopgap on the list of diagnoses to remove the politics and get it in the hands of medical professionals. To get a diagnosis or condition added, the medical composite board, along with DPH, will make the recommendation. So both groups have to sign off on adding to the list.
Treevana: And in states where medical cannabis has been made legal, there seems to be an outpouring of gratitude and stories of recovery. How have your constituents responded to the passing of the bill 324?
Senator Matt Brass: I used to hear from people on a weekly basis; now, I might hear from them every few months. Just a kind note thanking me again. Showing me a picture of their kids or emails asking me questions about something other than medical cannabis.
Treevana: And what do you believe are some of the most significant challenges faced by the Georgia Medical Cannabis Commission?
Senator Matt Brass: A lot of the same challenges that we faced before are still present today. A specific segment of the public is utterly fearful of this. The “unknown,” so that’s a challenge, but the more education is provided, the more the public comes around. There are a lot of gaps in the law that we intentionally left because within a year or two; there are gonna be new experts in this space. We wanted to leave a lot of the decisions up to the experts and to the commission. There are a lot of rules and regulations that have to be written, and doing it on a limited budget, so that is another challenge. But once the program takes off and we start taking application fees, hopefully, this will fund itself.
Treevana: And what would you like to see happen across the state of Georgia as the result of the passing of bill 324?
Senator Matt Brass: First and foremost, I want to see this medicine get in these patient’s hands. That’s the whole intent of the law. The second thing is making sure we have good companies investing in Georgia and Georgia’s patients. The patients have to come first. I’d like to see good community partners too, not just companies that are going to invest in the state and profit, but companies willing to invest in their local communities where they set up shop. You know, being part of the Chamber of Commerce helping your local nonprofits, being good corporate citizens. That’s what I’d like to see.
Treevana: Great. And lastly, the topic of medical cannabis is very personal to many people. Do you have a story to share with our readers that most impacted your heart and your mind in favor of medical cannabis?
Senator Matt Brass: Yes. When I first got involved, I hadn’t really thought about it, but my mother has lived with MS since she was diagnosed in 1999. So about 21 years ago. MS was on the original list of diagnoses for qualifying for medical marijuana. We’re sitting in the study committee one day, and I got a letter from a neuro doctor about how medical cannabis can help his patient. I’m reading it right before the study committee started, and I was like, “Man, I know this name. I think this is my mom’s doctor.” So I took a picture of it and sent it to my mom, and she confirmed that it was, in fact, her doctor and that she was going to see him the next day.
It got me thinking, what if this could help my mother one day? Right now, she has no way of getting it. I’ve got an aunt who has a more aggressive version of MS. I think about those two family members and what if they were to need it or wanted to have it as an option. I want doctors to have all of the tools in the tool chest so that they can treat their patients with whatever they feel is best for that patient.
That letter from Dr. Thrower really gave me a little extra drive in that first year to go ahead and get that bill done. So, it definitely could be personal one day.
Treevana: Well, Senator Brass, thank you again for both your advocacy and your time, and we truly appreciate it.
Senator Matt Brass: Thank you, and thank you for all you’re doing at Treevana. This is great work.
To learn more about Senator Matt Brass, visit his website at http://mattbrass.org.