The Green Shepard

Interviewed by: Cassandra Valdez

Written by: James Alexander

State Representative Micah Gravley shook the state by authoring Georgia’s Hope Act. This robust legislation  will allow for the cultivation, manufacturing, and dispensing of low THC oil in the state of Georgia,  bringing relief to thousands of Georgians who were suffering from debilitating medical conditions.

We were able to sit down with Rep. Gravley to hear how he carved a legal pathway low THC oil in a state where many thought it would never happen.

Treevana: First of all, thank you, Representative Gravley, for joining us and making time to speak with us today.

Micah Gravley: You’re more than welcome.

Treevana: You have been an obvious advocate for the medical cannabis movement. What is it that first drew your support to the medicine?

Micah Gravley: I remember it vividly. It was December of 2013, and I was in my home office. My kids were playing. We had just finished our family Christmas gathering. About a week earlier, I walked in the Dallas Christmas Parade, which was an annual event for our family in the city of Dallas in Paulding County. I was reviewing emails, and an email came through from a woman named Kim Shel Clark that I have not heard from in 20 years. A woman that I had gone with to elementary and high school. In the email, she simply said, “I had no idea you had gotten into politics. I also had no idea you lived in Paulding County. I was at the Dallas Christmas Parade, and I saw you in the parade. I wanted to ask you specifically what your views on medical marijuana are because we’re moving my son to Colorado in the morning.” And I thought, wow, this is a very heavy email.

She sent me a Ted talk video with the Stanley Brothers and the Figi family. It talked about their daughter, Charlotte Figi. I watched this video not having any knowledge of medical cannabis. As a matter of fact, I pushed away from my desk and very quietly whispered the words, “Oh no, I don’t wanna deal with this issue.” As I watched the video, I honestly believed that God was saying, you are in a position now to help people, and that’s what you said you wanted to do. At the same time, I kind of heard my children upstairs running and playing and there was a swell of emotions that was happening. I mean, literally within an hour as I sat in my office reading this email, rewatching the video, I just felt this overwhelming voice say to me,“if this was your child, what would you do?”

And that was the beginning. December 2013. For the rest of the Christmas break, I did nothing but speak with the family. I spoke with my pastor. I spoke with other legislators about what they thought about this — just testing the waters really to see what the feedback would be. I got to the 2014 general assembly, and those same legislators approached me and said, “Hey, Allen Peake has dropped a bill, house bill 885. We told him about you.” And again, that same fear came over me. I was like; those were private conversations that we had. You weren’t supposed to tell anybody. But before I knew it, Allen Peake was tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “Hey, are you going to go with me on this bill? I heard you had some of the same experiences.”

From that point on, I thought, if this gets me unelected, then I will have been unelected for doing the right thing. I’m going to go ahead and sign my name. He immediately sent me outside to speak with Laurie Gary with Channel 2 Action News. That started this crusade, this journey, for getting safe, accessible legal medicine to the citizens of Georgia that need it.

Treevana: You authored house bill 324, also known as Georgia’s Hope Act. What an incredible achievement. Can you tell us how you came to author such a life-changing piece of legislation for so many?

Micah Gravley: Absolutely. I was apprehensive at first. I spoke with the speaker of the house, David Ralston, an incredible champion and supporter of, not only this issue, but of mine and Allen Peake’s. I told him that I didn’t want to carry the bill because after the three previous bills, and the two previous study committees, there might be some fatigue. That maybe somebody else, a fresh face, may give the bill a better opportunity or a better chance of passing. So, I delayed probably about two weeks and had several meetings with the speaker. Allen Peake tried to get cultivation in two of the previous bills, but it was always taken out, whether it be the governor’s office or whether it be other members of the general assembly who just did not think Georgia was ready for cultivation.

In one of my meetings with the speaker, he said, “Absolutely not. This is your bill. You’re going to carry it. You’re the only one that can carry it.” Allen Peake called me and said he’d be there as a resource for me. He essentially left that mantle to me. It had always been a bill that had originated in the house, so I thought it was the proper place. With the backing of the speaker and my colleagues, I thought I could do this. For me, it was just another piece of the puzzle that we needed to get accomplished in Georgia.

Treevana: Absolutely. And did you find a lot of initial support at the Capitol? For instance, how did you gain the support of Senator Matt Brass?

Micah Gravley: Matt has been a champion from the beginning. I came into the legislature a year or two before Matt did but from ground zero. He came into the legislature wanting to see something happen. So I knew he would be a credible ally in the Senate. He had prior knowledge of the bill, having worked for the US congressmen in that district. We had the same worldview. We wanted to help patients in Georgia.

Initially, there was some apprehension because the tone of the legislature at that time was we’ve spent the last three or four years on cannabis oil. We’ve given you what you wanted. The patients can access it. But as we found out, there continues to be a need for education. As legislators found out, it was their constituents who were eager to get their hands on the oil, but there was nowhere to actually purchase the oil. And these families couldn’t afford to go to other States. They were already dealing with astronomical medical costs. The logistics alone of trying to obtain this oil was a circus.

When legislators found out more and more citizens were starting to know someone that the oil was helping, a child that was in their district was recovering from seizures, or a longstanding community member was using the oil; more and more government officials started to come around. They were beginning to hear the stories, that people wanted to try the oil but just couldn’t get it anywhere. On top of that, it’s against the law for us to go to another state. Not only federal law, but the states that they were going to had laws that said you can’t get our oil. Once my colleagues understood the gravity of the situation and the need for cultivation, we were able to gain support.

Treevana: And how did you react when you heard that bill 324 had been officially signed into law by Governor Kemp?

Micah Gravley: April 17th, 2019. I’ll remember that day forever. It was an unbelievable day. I have to give Governor Kemp credit. There was a moment where we thought the bill was going to stall and die, but it was Governor Kemp along with Senator Brass, myself, and other leaders that kept the bill alive. The Capitol was packed with families that had been with us for the past five years working through heartache and disappointment toward this day of victory. It was surreal.

Treevana: HB 324 created the Medical Marijuana Commission. What are the roles and responsibilities of those appointed to the commission? And how do they benefit the state of Georgia?

Micah Gravley: It took a little bit to get the members appointed because we wanted to make sure that we had individuals capable of lifting this industry in the state of Georgia that had career expertise and could bring a type of gravitas to this industry. The role of that commission is to create rules and regulations. To issue these licenses and make sure that the six vendors that are going to be cultivating cannabis in this state are putting the patients first. This board is tasked with determining who those six recipients are going to be, implementing private dispensing licenses, speaking to the legislature on the need for additional licenses, and being a sounding board to work with not only the legislature but other offices and departments on this industry.

Treevana: And to that point, the Georgia Medical Marijuana Commission recently appointed Andrew Turnage as the commissioner. What is it about Mr. Turnage that makes him an ideal candidate for the position?

Micah Gravley: I’ve never met Mr Turnage, but I believe that he is going to be someone that can logistically get the office up and running. I’ve heard nothing but good things about him.

Treevana: I’m aware that the provisions of the bill have changed over time from its passing in the house and then the Senate. Do you see the legislation continuing to evolve in the hands of the commission and increasing access to patients?

Micah Gravley: Absolutely. I mean, this is something that I’ve been very passionate about. In a sense; it’s almost defined my time in the legislature. I have had the incredible opportunity to work with giants in the legislative policymaking arena regarding medical cannabis. Allen Peake being first and foremost. With this commission, I hope to see the diagnosis expanded. I hope the commission sees the need for independent dispensaries. I hope that they will understand that patients need to be able to get to it in their community. Georgia has the opportunity to set the standard nationwide when it comes to medical cannabis, research, and development. I would love for Georgia to be the model that other states look too and I believe the commission can play a big role in that.

I think that companies outside of the commission in our state are preparing to contribute significantly to this endeavor. I believe the commission has a great role to play when it comes to the evolution of this industry in Georgia. First and foremost, if we do this one simple thing we are sure to be met with success, and that is: if we keep patients first, if we ensure the safety and the quality of legal, accessible medicine, then we will be met with success because patients in Georgia will get the treatment that they need.

Treevana: And as we’ve seen through widespread education, public opinion on medical cannabis has dramatically shifted into positive territory. How would you like to expand upon bill 324 if it were to be amended?

Micah Gravley: I’d love to see the industry create its own association for advocacy; that the commission can work with that, the medical association can work in tandem with. I’d love to see the expansion of the use of medical cannabis to treat whatever condition that the patient is suffering from. We have a second to none medical infrastructure in Georgia. All these institutions and committees need to work in concert together on this particular issue. And I know some of them have been apprehensive about coming to the table, but many have started exploring medical cannabis. Whether it be through the medical professionals that they employ or whether it be through the patients that these medical professionals are treating. The need to know more, the need to bring more education to something that I believe is absolutely the future.

Georgia has a stake in this industry. People across the country are going to understand that we treat our citizens right and that we will fight to get them the treatment that they need. And that’s why we started this from the beginning. From the child that has epileptic seizures to the elder that has dementia or Alzheimer’s. The cancer patient, the AIDS patient, people who are dealing with sickle cell anemia or multiple sclerosis. Whatever their condition is, we are here to fight for them. We will always answer the call. Because if we’re doing right by them, we’re doing right by the industry.

Treevana: In closing, what would you like to see the future of Georgia medical cannabis program look like for those patients?

Micah Gravley: An all-encompassing infrastructure of treatment, safe access, and a wide variety of treatment options.

Treevana: Excellent. Well, representative Gravley, I want to thank you once again for both your advocacy and for making time to speak with us today. We appreciate it.

Micah Gravley: Treevana, thank you so much. It has been a pleasure, and thank you for setting all of this up and for the education that you’re providing. I think it’s going to be a tremendous asset to the future of the Georgian cannabis industry.

Treevana: We appreciate your contribution.

To learn more about Micah Gravely, visit his website at https://micahgravley.com